Dark chocolate may fight off heart attacks | Dark Chocolate is Healthy Chocolate | What Chocolate is Healthy Chocolate
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.”
Translation: Say “Dark, please,” when ordering at the chocolate counter. Don’t even think of washing it down with milk. And if health is your excuse for eating chocolate, remember the word “moderate” as you nibble.
Dark Chocolate Might Reduce Blood Pressure
A small study suggests that eating dark chocolate can lower your blood pressure – a delicious instance in which something that tastes good might, for a change, be good for you, too. The short study would need to be confirmed in larger, longer-term ones before doctors could recommend treatment with chocolate, researchers say.
Yet if the results can be confirmed, “you can sin with perhaps a little less bad feeling,” said Dr. Franz Messerli, a hypertension expert at Ochsner Clinic Foundation in New Orleans.
The German study appears in Wednesday’s Journal of the American Medical Association.
Thirteen adults with untreated mild hypertension got to eat 3-ounce chocolate bars every day for two weeks. Half of the patients got white chocolate, half got dark chocolate.
Dark chocolate contains plant substances called polyphenols ingredients scientists think are responsible for the heart-healthy attributes of red wine. Polyphenols also have been shown to lower blood pressure in animals.
Blood pressure remained pretty much unchanged in the group that ate white chocolate, which does not contain polyphenols. But after two weeks, systolic blood pressure the top number had dropped an average of five points in the dark chocolate group. The lower, or diastolic, reading fell an average of almost two points.
The participants had an average blood pressure reading of about 153 over 84.
While their blood pressure did not fall enough to be considered in the desirable range below 120 over 80 the results show dark chocolate “might serve as a promising approach to reduce systolic blood pressure,” said lead author Dr. Dirk Taubert of the University of Cologne.
Taubert said participants ate the chocolate bars instead of the sweets they usually consumed, and thus did not gain weight during the study.
The study received no industry funding the researchers bought the chocolate themselves from the supermarket.
Taubert’s team signed up six men and seven women aged 55-64. All had just been diagnosed with mild high blood pressure on average, systolic blood pressure (the top number) of 153 and diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) of 84.
Every day for two weeks, they ate a 100-gram candy bar and were asked to balance its 480 calories by not eating other foods similar in nutrients and calories. Half the patients got dark chocolate and half got white chocolate.
Those who ate dark chocolate had a significant drop in blood pressure (by an average of 5 points for systolic and an average of 2 points for diastolic blood pressure). Those who ate white chocolate did not.
In the second study, Serafini’s team signed up seven healthy women and five healthy men aged 25-35. On different days they each ate 100 grams of dark chocolate by itself, 100 grams of dark chocolate with a small glass of whole milk, or 200 grams of milk chocolate.
An hour later, those who ate dark chocolate alone had the most total antioxidants in their blood. And they had higher levels of epicatechin, a particularly healthy compound found in chocolate. The milk chocolate eaters had the lowest epicatechin levels of all.
How Chocolate Is Made
Cacao trees are often interplanted with tall shade trees to protect them from direct sunlight. Pods grow on the trunks and larger branches of the trees and take five to six months to ripen. Fruit on the higher branches are harvested with blades on long handles and lower branches are cut with machetes.
The pods are cut open with machetes to reveal between 20 to 40 beans each, surrounded by a mass of stickly, white pulp. Traditionally, this was done immediately after harvest; today, pods are sometimes first stored whole for a few days to prime them for fermentation.
Fermenting begins when the beans come into contact with the air. Here, a workrt uses a stick to gauge the depth of the mass in a vara, or measuring box, to determine the wage of the harvester, before transferring it to the fermentation bin. During fermentation, the pulp disintegrates, producing steamy heat and a pervasive, yeasty, sour smell. It is at this point that the beans first develop thier complex characteristics.
Drying of the beans after fermentation is done on slatted wooden trays in the open air. The beans are spread out evenly and raked periodically so that they dry uniformly. As the beans dry, their colors deepen, turning them into a carpet of sepia, umber, and mocha.
Aeration of the dried beans during storage is important to prevent the formation of mold. A worker tosses beans with a shovel to expose them evenly to the air.
Grading of the beans is done mechanically at the larger farms; smaller producers do it by hand. From baskets, the dried beans are transferred to burlap bags and transported to local selling stations, where they may be bought by large companies for export.
Arriving at the chocolate mills, the beans undergo a thorough cleaning, followed by the roasting which brings out the particular flavor of each variety. Throughout this process, a constant and exact temperature must be maintained. Correct roasting is exceedingly important since under-roasting leaves a raw taste and over-roasting results in a high pungent or even burnt flavor.
Now comes the cooling, shelling, and winnowing, from which the cocoa beans emerge cleaned and ready for blending. This important process requires expert knowledge and skill. Not only must the beans be selected which will produce the best chocolate flavor, but uniformity of blend must be preserved year in and year out.
After the blending, the cocoa beans are milled or slowly ground between great heated millstones. Under heat and tremendous pressure, the cocoa butter melts and mixes with other parts of the beans forming the ruddy chocolate liquor. The fragrant chocolate odor is now noticeable.
The liquor is then treated according to the product to be made. For unsweetened chocolate, the liquor is poured into molds and cooled rapidly in refrigerating rooms. Then the cacao emeres in familiar form, as bars of chocolate, ready to be wrapped and sold.