Chocolate has sometimes been mentioned as a healthy food. Turns out it's not all chocolates. They have to be... Dairy-Free.
That's the claim made by this Premium Health News Service story by Lisa Tsakos of NaturallySavvy.com. I found it on the website of an Arkansas television station.
Q. Is chocolate actually healthy? I've heard a lot about the antioxidant properties of chocolate.
A: The antioxidants (polyphenols) in chocolate are very powerful -- as long as no dairy has been added. Research shows the health benefits of chocolate (or cacao) are negated with the addition of dairy. Bottom line: Yes, dairy-free chocolate can be healthy (the more antioxidants the better), however, those same nutrients can be found in tea and red grapes. So as much as we'd like to think of chocolate as an "essential" food ... oh, go ahead, eat it anyway.
Is this true? Are there any studies on this?
Who cares? I love dark chocolate! (70-72% cocoa powder content is best.) Do you think I'm going to even try to disprove such a wonderful report? Facts that you want to hear are always true!
Fortunately for my morals and ethics, Lisa Tsakos' contention is backed up by some scientific research.
A story by Daniel J. DeNoon on WebMD in 2003 reported on an Italian study.
Dark chocolate -- but not milk chocolate or dark chocolate eaten with milk -- is a potent antioxidant, report Mauro Serafini, PhD, of Italy's National Institute for Food and Nutrition Research in Rome, and colleagues. Their report appears in the Aug. 28  issue of Nature. Antioxidants gobble up free radicals, destructive molecules that are implicated in heart disease and other ailments.
"Our findings indicate that milk may interfere with the absorption of antioxidants from chocolate ... and may therefore negate the potential health benefits that can be derived from eating moderate amounts of dark chocolate."
Nature is one of the world's premier science journals. Did I mention that they printed a story of mine on their back page "Futures" section that features one page science fiction hard science stories? It's in the September 24, 2009 issue for those with access to bigger libraries. (Or you can buy it as part of my collection of short stories Tyrannosaur Faire. Its title is "A Kiss Isn't Just a Kiss".) Why didn't I tell you about it sooner? Because I didn't know when the story was going to be published and I only found out about it when they sent me an issue - an issue that didn't arrive until the next week's issue was already out.)
I have to point out that this study was on a grand total of 12 people and only tested their blood an hour after eating so there's no way of knowing whether any long-term good was done.
ScienceDaily.com reported on a different study from the U.S. Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in 2005. The ARS is the chief scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The researchers found natural cocoa powders contained the highest levels of TAC and procyanidins, which were found to be the dominant antioxidant in chocolates. Milk chocolates, which contain the least amount of cocoa solids, had the lowest TAC and procyanidin levels. Baking chocolates contained fewer procyanidins, because they contained more fat (50-60 percent) than natural cocoa. Alkalinization, used to reduce the acidity and raise the pH of cocoa, such as Dutch chocolates, was found to markedly reduce procyanidin content. Researchers concluded that chocolates containing higher amounts of cocoa ingredients have higher procyanidin contents, therefore, higher antioxidant capacities.
Nine major manufacturers provided commercially available chocolate and cocoa samples and the National Institute of Standards and Technology provided its Standard Reference chocolate for analysis. The study was partially funded by a grant from the American Cocoa Research Institute.
Wait. The National Institute of Standards and Technology has a "Standard Reference Chocolate"? Why isn't this better known? Why aren't there public tours?
Anyway, other research indicates that the chocolate should be at least 70% cocoa for best results, a nice bittersweet amount. (I find that anything over 80% is too bitter, but I'm extremely sensitive to bitter tastes.) Remember that the rest of the chocolate will be fat, so don't overindulge.
There are zillions of dark chocolate bars on the market. I've tried many and found that they are remarkably different from one another. Unfortunately, the more expensive ones really are better. You can get good results inside a good supermarket if you explore the shelves carefully and sample the brands. If the bar doesn't tell you the cocoa percentage you can assume that it isn't high enough.
Dark chocolate. Daily. Have a piece while checking out my blog. Both are proven to be good for your health.