Author: Phyllis Lai, Nutritionist at HKBioTek
Chocolate is one of the many all-time favorite snacks for adults and kids. It is considered to be an unhealthy food due to the high content of sugar and fat. However, studies have showed some beneficial effects in chocolate in terms of feelings of happiness relaxation and peace psychologically and its high antioxidant capacity physiologically.
Antioxidants are substances consumed in foods which help to reduce and prevent the formation of destructive chemicals in the body called free radicals. Free radicals attack the systems of the body even to the DNA level leaving us less able to fight off the effects of disease and aging. The benefit of antioxidant can be seen when it prevents the onset of cancer, heart disease and diseases of aging through vitamins C and E as well as carotenoids and mineral selenium.
Black and green teas, red wine, and cocoa are consumed widely and are known to be rich in phenolic phytochemicals. Interestingly, results suggest that cocoa is more beneficial to health than teas and red wine in terms of its higher antioxidant capacity. These natural compounds from the cocoa bean are known to increase nitric oxide, reduce platelet aggregation, and inhibit oxidation of LDL cholesterol. Cocoa can decrease blood pressure, reduce cholesterol, and increase insulin sensitivity. Dark chocolate in particular contains important antioxidants called phenols, which was found to have positive effects on blood pressure. Milk and white chocolate are low in these antioxidants and do not have the same effect.
Even though a bar of chocolate exhibits strong antioxidant activity, the health benefits are still controversial because relatively large amounts of saturated fats are present. Nevertheless, a cup of hot cocoa has a much lower level of saturated fats (0.3g per serving) than a bar of chocolate (8g per 40g bar).
However, intake of antioxidants should not depend on chocolate alone and should be eaten in moderation. Fruits and vegetables are by far the most abundant sources of antioxidants. A good rule of thumb to follow is the more colorful a fruit or vegetable is the more antioxidants it contains and they do not contain the extra calories found in chocolate!