Dark chocolate also has health benefits

  • Posted: Sunday, April 13, 2014 3:54 p.m.
    UPDATED: Monday, April 14, 2014 7:08 a.m.
Staff Photo by Stephanie Turner
Cyndi’s Sweet Shoppe sells several chocolate and candy products like these dark chocolate mousse signature truffles pictured. Dark chocolate is said to have numerous health benefits like lowering cholesterol and providing the body antioxidants.
Staff Photo by Stephanie Turner Cyndi’s Sweet Shoppe sells several chocolate and candy products like these dark chocolate mousse signature truffles pictured. Dark chocolate is said to have numerous health benefits like lowering cholesterol and providing the body antioxidants.

The softest taste to the gooeyness of flavors – the world of chocolate explores them all.

Some might hesitate to enjoy this treat because of its possible high-calorie content.

Studies have been conducted, though, to give some reasons to relax and bite in.

The type of chocolate claimed to be the most beneficial is dark chocolate.

Chocolate comes from the cocoa bean, according to Patrick Gélinas, USC Aiken exercise and sports science senior instructor.

These beans contain a family of chemicals known as flavanol, which release several positive effects.

“They have been shown in several peer-reviewed studies to relax blood vessels and improve blood flow to the brain. ... Further, flavanols have been studied for their antioxidant abilities in heart attack and heart disease prevention,” Gélinas explained.

Flavanols can also improve one's skin.

“It reduces reddening, improves skin hydration and creates less scaling,” Gélinas said as a couple of examples.

Dark chocolate can also lower blood cholesterol, according to Dr. Brian Parr, USCA exercise and sports science associate professor.

“Its mental health benefits include the ability to boost brain levels of endorphins (natural opiates), as well as serotonin (a mood-altering chemical on which many antidepressants act). Because it can increase serotonin levels in the brain, dark chocolate also may increase serotonin production in the gut, and thus help your immune system,” according to the Psych Central website.

Researchers have also found that dark chocolate can help its consumers to “perform better on timed mental teaching, which indicates improvements in their acute cognitive functioning,” according to Cynthia Catts, area nutrition therapist.

While it is not proven to be because of the chocolate specifically, it has been reported that a significant portion of dark chocolate consumers have the ability to maintain their weights better, Parr said.

“Dark chocolate is typically very low in sugar,” Gélinas said.

This chocolate also can contain minerals such as iron, copper and magnesium.

A reason dark chocolate is so more beneficial than other types is because of its higher cacao level, Parr explained.

Cocoa beans come from the tropical cacao tree.

“It is only called a cocoa bean once it is removed from the pod in which it grows,” according to the World Cocoa Foundation.

How much cacao content the dark chocolate has can often be found on its label.

“Most chocolate we eat is milk chocolate, which has lower levels of cacao, and many candy bars contain more than chocolate – raising the calorie content,” Parr said.

Parr and Gélinas both agree that eating dark chocolate should not be the only path taken to a healthier body.

“It has to be part of a lifestyle including a healthy diet and regular exercise,” Parr said. “The good news is that dark chocolate is something that you can eat in moderation and instead of other sweets without feeling guilty.”

Stephanie Turner graduated from Valdosta State University in 2012. She then signed on with the Aiken Standard, where she is now the arts and entertainment reporter.

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