Q&A: Ask The RD
I've recently heard about the health benefits of raw dark chocolate. Isn't all chocolate raw?
Answer: Not exactly. But before I explain the “raw” designation, let me first address the health benefits you can expect from chocolate. Dark chocolate has always been the darling of the dessert world, but only recently has it enjoyed the same favored status in the health world—with the most bitter darks grabbing top honors.
What gives dark chocolate its health edge? Credit the antioxidant flavonoid that is naturally found in cacao beans. A study published recently in the Journal of Hypertension found that high dietary intake of flavanols (the specific type of flavonoids found in cacao beans) boosts brain function and lowers blood pressure. Besides offering these benefits, the antioxidant properties of flavones have been linked with improved blood flow to the brain and heart and with a reduction in insulin resistance.
But not all chocolate is created equal. The darker the chocolate (or the higher the percentage of cacao), the more flavanols it contains. That is because low-percentage dark chocolate, like milk chocolate, contains sugar and other ingredients that crowd out the natural antioxidant. But before you begin to stock up on dark chocolate, keep in mind that any processing the chocolate has undergone will impact the amount of flavanols it contains. Most chocolate has undergone some sort of processing, such as heating or roasting. As a result, some manufacturers are making “raw” chocolate that has been cold-pressed to preserve as much antioxidant content as possible. This is the type of chocolate you should look for to gain the biggest health benefit; however, raw chocolate may not be easy to find, as it is still relatively new to the market.
Keep in mind that there is no recommended “dose” for obtaining the health benefits of dark chocolate. A prudent recommendation is to eat about 1 ounce per day as part of a healthfully balanced diet. It’s important to note that chocolate is not the only natural source of flavanols. You can also get a good amount from cranberries, apples, tea and red wine.