What is dark chocolate?
Dark chocolate is a form of confectionery made without milk solids and has a more pronounced taste of chocolate. It is more prone to a dry, chalky texture and a bitter aftertaste due to deficiency of milk additives.
How is it processed?
Cacao beans, produced from a tree called Theobroma cacao, are the source of dark chocolate. These beans undergo a series of steps that include fermentation, roasting and milling to alter their physical and chemical properties as they are not palatable in raw form. Dark chocolate is often distinguished by the proportion of cocoa solids in the bar which range from 30% (sweet dark) to 70% – 75%, or even above 80% for immensely dark bars. Based on these proportions, dark chocolate is often divided into bittersweet, semi-sweet, and sweet dark chocolate. In some countries like Europe, dark chocolate defines a chocolate with 35% cocoa content.
What are cardiovascular diseases?
These are a series of diseases related to cardiovascular system which includes the heart and the blood vessels of our body. Some of the common and fatal diseases include heart failure and atherosclerosis. These cardiovascular diseases generally develop due to inflammation and thickening of arteries caused by the accumulation of WBC and remnants of dead cells, including cholesterol and triglycerides.
How does dark chocolate help in fighting cardiovascular diseases?
Nitric oxide is a gas synthesized in our body which plays a crucial role in the regulation of several body functions including prevention of artery blockage and atherogenesis by:
- Acting as a vasodilatormodulating the dilation (opening) of blood vessels for uninterrupted blood flow.
- Protecting blood vessels from injurious consequences of WBC and cells circulating in the blood.
- Controlling the cell growth with the vessels
- Ensuring adequate removal of fats and cholesterol from the arteries.
Lack of nitric oxide can lead to a series of events associated as risk factors for increased blood pressure and high cholesterol. Inadequate nitric oxide may also cause narrowing of the arteries that supply blood to the heart, thereby resulting in a heart attack. One of the major reasons for the deficiency of nitric oxide is oxidative degradation by reactive oxygen species (ROS). Routine body functions such as physical activity, breathing or inhalation of smoke and environmental pollutants produce reactive oxygen species in our body. Oxidative degradation involves the conversion of nitric oxide to toxic peroxynitrite with the help of reactive oxygen species. Disruption of this process by attacking the ROS can stop nitric oxideconversion, subsequently resulting in adequate availability of nitric oxide.
Cocoa beans happen to have abundant of powerful plant anti-oxidants known as flavonoids. These agents, with their anti-oxidative properties, can counteract ROS to maintain adequate levels of nitric oxide in the body. Flavonoids are classified as:
- Flavonol (ex. Quercitin)
- Flavonol (ex. Epicatechin, Catechin)
- Iso flavone
Flavonols are the dominant type of flavonoids found in cocoa beans. These agents also inhibit oxidation of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) to hinder lipid peroxidation, which is a chemical process where free radicals steal electrons from lipids to cause cell damage.
In addition to flavonoids, dark chocolate contains a composition of fats which originate from cocoa butter. It is made up of oleic acid, stearic acid and palmitic acid in equal proportions. Oleic acid is a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat also found in olive oil. Stearic acid is a form of saturated fat which is generally considered bad for the heart; however, research has shown that stearic acid found in dark chocolate has a neutral effect on the body. Palmitic acid on the other hand simply accounts for one-third of the total fat calories in dark chocolate.
Apart from anti-oxidant properties, cocoa also helps:
- To Lower Blood Pressure.
- Improves Blood Flow To The Heart And Brain.
- Enhance Platelet Function.
- Restore Flexibility Of Arteries.
- Prevents White Blood Cells From Sticking To The Walls Of Blood Vessels.
Are all chocolates beneficial?
Chocolates which are higher in cocoa content and lack milk additives are beneficial for the heart. The more we process chocolate, the more flavanols will be lost during the process. Therefore, every chocolate in the confectionery is not healthy for you with an exception of dark chocolate due to its lowest concentration of processed sugar and absence of milk additives. Beware of chewy, caramelized and nut-covered dark chocolate, as this is in no way good for you due to lots of fats and calories from those extra ingredients.
How much of dark chocolate is recommended?
In a recent study, researchers determined that eating 100 grams of dark chocolate every day could potentially prevent 15 fatal cardiovascular events. There are no particular recommendations stating the daily intake of dark chocolate but some diet committees advise consumption of 7 ounces of dark chocolate per week averaging an ounce per day (28.3 grams) to combat cardiovascular attacks.
Ideal tips for consumption of dark chocolate
- To avoid taking an excess of dark chocolate, eat it after a full meal.
- Eating a piece of fruit before having dark chocolate can help satisfy your sweet craving (or) you can dip fresh fruits in dark chocolate before munching them.
- When buying a chocolate, select bars with higher cocoa content.
People sensitive to caffeine should be aware of the fact that dark chocolate contains caffeine. It also contains oxalates which may play an important factor in developing kidney stones especially in people who are prone to kidney stone formation.