by Linda Sparrow and Craig Weatherby
Talk about a reversal of fortune and reputation.
In just a few years, research has raised the status of chocolate from that of mere candy to amazing new heights as a likely aid to cardiovascular health.
But chocolate reached its lofty new status as a super-food thanks to discoveries about its cardiovascular effects.
These apparent heart benefits flow from the very high levels of potent antioxidants found raw cocoa… and in dark chocolate that contains 65 percent or more raw cocoa.
Raw cocoa contains the same family of extra-potent polyphenol antioxidants—called flavanols—that make berries and tea so healthful. But compared with berries and tea, raw cocoa has even more of these powerful anti-aging allies.
And recent research shows that the benefits of flavanols and other polyphenol antioxidants extend beyond their direct antioxidants effects to anti-inflammatory influences over key genetic switches in our cells.
Cocoa’s bounty of antioxidant flavanols explains the fast-growing body of evidence indicating that raw cocoa—and dark chocolate made from raw, unprocessed cocoa—exert beneficial effects on artery health and blood pressure.
The dark, the raw, and the Dutched
The cardiac benefits seen in many studies are not detected when people eat cocoa treated with alkali… a process known as “Dutching,” which destroys most of cocoa’s antioxidants.
Unfortunately, few people who read about the heart-health promise of cocoa and dark chocolate realize that the vast majority of cocoa is Dutched… nor do they know that the vast majority of chocolate is made from Dutched, antioxidant-poor cocoa
Only a few companies—including Vital Choice—offer dark chocolate made from raw, “non-Dutched” cocoa.
By definition, “dark” chocolate consists of 65 percent or more cocoa solids.
|Dark chocolate… the raw, the Dutched, and the hype|
The chocolate used in the UK clinical trial was a “special” dark chocolate by Barry Callebaut, made from Dutched (alkali-treated) cocoa, using a patented process that retains much higher levels of flavanols than are found in standard chocolate made with Dutched cocoa.
One has to wonder why Barry Callebaut (Acticoa), Mars (Cocoavia), and the makers of other patented, high-flavanol chocolates don’t just skip the Dutching step, whose only purposes are to slightly reduce bitterness in cocoa and give it a darker, more uniform color.
Customers who see the hype from these makers often ask us how our chocolate measure up, in terms of antioxidant content. The answer is simple… our non-Dutched chocolate matches or exceeds those brands for antioxidant content, without the hype and patents… but with organic and Fair Trade certification.
We don’t need to employ a patented process to preserve the antioxidants natural to the premium quality, organic, Fair Trade cocoa used make Vital Choice 80% Extra Dark Organic Chocolate bars.
We just don’t degrade its nutritional quality with unnecessary Dutching in the first place!
And only dark chocolate that retains the high antioxidant content of raw cocoa displays heart- and skin-health benefits.
The antioxidant content of cocoa and chocolate can be preserved either by skipping the unnecessary Dutching step used by most companies that make cocoa powder from cocoa beans… or by using new, patented processes that protect Dutched cocoa from loss of antioxidants.
We’ve taken the former, natural route—using raw, non-Dutched cocoa—to ensure maximum antioxidant content in our Organic Extra Dark 80% Chocolate.
The distinction between Dutched and raw cocoa has taken on added importance with news that eating antioxidant-rich dark chocolate may protect your skin from damage caused by UV sunrays.
Dark chocolate’s sunny side
The skin redness and inflammation known as sunburn results when your skin gets overexposed to sun, which happens faster in pale-skinned folks.
When UV sunrays strike the skin, they can damage cells directly and they also generate the unstable, cell-damaging molecules called free radicals.
The skin-cell damage caused by UV sunrays and free radicals yields cosmetic flaws like wrinkling and sagging.
UV sunrays and free radicals can also cause skin cancer… although that danger is often overstated. In fact, exaggerated fear of sun exposure and excessive use of sunscreens is partly responsible for the epidemic of vitamin D deficiency documented in many recent studies.
In recent years, a team of German scientists reported the encouraging results of two studies in which women consumed either a drink made with raw, high-flavanol cocoa or a low-flavanol Dutched cocoa.
The first study showed that women who drank raw cocoa—rich in flavanol antioxidants—for 12 weeks displayed significant reductions in scaling and roughness and substantialincreases in skin blood flow, skin density, and hydration (water content).
None of these benefits were seen in a control group that drank a low-flavanol “Dutched” cocoa (Heinrich U et al. 2006).
Here are some ideas for increasing your enjoyment of chocolate, and its health benefits
Savor the flavor... slowly
Chocolate is a complex food with over 300 compounds and chemicals in each bite. To really enjoy and appreciate chocolate, serve it a room temperature and take the time to taste it.
Skip the sweet additions
You should look for pure dark chocolate or dark chocolate with nuts and fruit. Avoid the added sugar that comes from caramel, nougat or other fillings and add-ins.
Research shows that milk reduces absorption of the antioxidants in chocolate. Not only does milk chocolate have less antioxidants, its milk content hinders their absorption.
A little bite does the trick
Studies show substantial artery benefits from eating just one square of extra-dark, non-Dutched chocolate per day. You don’t need to eat much chocolate to get a pretty big heart-health boost, and just one bite from an extra-dark bar delivers a senses-satisfying flavor blast.
The second German study found similar increases in blood flow in the skin, as well as enhanced oxygen levels in their skin… changes not seen in women who drank low-flavanol “Dutched” cocoa (Neukam K et al. 2007).
One of the key flavanol antioxidants in cocoa, berries, and grapes—called OPC—helps keep theskin hydrated and reduce risk of UV-induced skin damage.
OPClikely works its magic through its potent antioxidant power and ability to help protect collagen and elastin… properties attractive to those seeking external as well as internal anti-aging allies (Cho ML et al. 2009; Han B et al. 2003).
Dark chocolate protects skin from UV rays in UK trial
Research reported by dermatologists at the London University of the Arts has added an important new dimension to the previously documented skin benefits of raw cocoa.
The UK researchers kicked off their report by making this key point, as if to confirm what we’ve said on the subject of raw cocoa versus Dutched cocoa:
“Cocoa beans fresh from the tree are exceptionally rich in flavanols. Unfortunately, during conventional chocolate making, this high antioxidant capacity is greatly reduced due to manufacturing processes” (Williams S et al. 2009).
The UK team conducted a controlled (randomized, double-blind) clinical trial in which 30 participants were divided into two groups of 15 each.
One group ate 20 grams (about 1/3 of a 2oz bar) of a high-flavanol chocolate daily for three months, while the other group consumed the same amount of a standard, low-flavanol chocolate.
After 12 weeks, the high-flavanol-chocolate group had more than double the UV protection, compared with the people in the low-flavanol-chocolate group, who showed no significant difference. Specifically, it took exposure to twice as much UV radiation to make their skin redden.
Making the obvious point, study co-author Stefanie Williams warned that raw, non-Dutched cocoa and dark chocolate are not replacements for sunscreen:
“The SPF [sun protection factor] provided by UV filters… [in sunscreens] is significantly higher than that offered by flavanol rich substances. This is an additional measure” (Williams S et al. 2009).
- Cho ML, Heo YJ, Park MK, Oh HJ, Park JS, Woo YJ, Ju JH, Park SH, Kim HY, Min JK. Grape seed proanthocyanidin extract (GSPE) attenuates collagen-induced arthritis. Immunol Lett. 2009 Jun 4;124(2):102-10. Epub 2009 May 14.
- de Haan, B, Bapat, S, Post, J.A. Oligomeric Proanthocyanidins Protect Vascular Endothelial Cells from Lipid Oxidation. Presented at 14th Inflammation Research Association, Oct 2006, Cambridge, Maryland, USA.
- Engler MB, Engler MM, Chen CY, Malloy MJ, Browne A, Chiu EY, Kwak HK, Milbury P, Paul SM, Blumberg J, Mietus-Snyder ML. Flavonoid-rich dark chocolate improves endothelial function and increases plasma epicatechin concentrations in healthy adults. J Am Coll Nutr. 2004 Jun;23(3):197-204.
- Han B, Jaurequi J, Tang BW, Nimni ME. Proanthocyanidin: a natural crosslinking reagent for stabilizing collagen matrices. J Biomed Mater Res A. 2003 Apr 1;65(1):118-24.
- Heinrich U, Neukam K, Tronnier H, Sies h, Stahl W. Long-term ingestion of high flavanol cocoa provides photoprotection against UV-induced erythema and improves skin condition in women. Journal of Nutrition, 2006 Jun;136(6):1565-9.
- Neukam K, Stahl W, Tronnier H, Sies H, Heinrich U. Consumption of flavanol-rich cocoa acutely increases microcirculation in human skin. Eur J Nutr. 2007 Feb;46(1):53-6. Epub 2006 Dec 11.
- Williams S, Tamburic S, Lally C. Eating chocolate can significantly protect the skin from UV light. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2009 Sep;8(3):169-73.