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  antioxidants in chocolate:
the health benefits of chocolate
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antioxidants chocolate cocoa hot Chocolate is more than just a decadent treat. Recent research has shown that chocolate -- especially dark chocolate -- is rich in healthy antioxidants. Chocolate, like red wine, contains substances called phenols, which are powerful antioxidants, and have been shown to help prevent LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) from building up in the arteries.

What are antioxidants?
Antioxidants are substances found in many living things; antioxidants help protect cells. Every living cell is subject to damage by free radicals. Free radicals are atoms or groupings of atoms (molecules) that are formed when some molecules are exposed to oxygen; these unstable free radicals then interact with other cells and components and can harm them and even cause cancer. Antioxidants are able to stop free radicals from doing their damage, so antioxidants are like the guardians of our cells.

What antioxidants are in chocolate?
The specific antioxidants abundant in chocolate are members of the phenol family called flavonoids. Flavonoids slow down the oxidizing nature of LDL cholesterol and helps prevent it from doing damage in the body. These same antioxidants have a preservative effect on the chocolate and help to keep it fresh for long periods of time. Studies of chocolate consumption have also shown an increase in good cholesterol.

So, how does chocolate affect my chances of heart disease?
While studies are still underway on the direct effects of chocolate consumption on heart disease and cancer, antioxidants have been shown to reduce incidence of these diseases. It is important to eat a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, but a little chocolate is a great way to hedge your health bets.

What chocolate sources have the most antioxidants?
Now that you know that chocolate has health benefits, it is important to note that there are dramatic differences between types of chocolate. Milk chocolate contains the lowest amount of antioxidants; dark chocolate has far more concentrated amounts of phenol per gram. In general, the darker and more concentrated the chocolate, the more antioxidants it contains. But, what may surprise many people is that the best chocolate source for antioxidants is cocoa powder. A cup of hot chocolate made from cocoa powder is almost as antioxidant packed as the powerhorse beverage, red wine.

But, I still have to worry about fat and sugar in chocolate, right?
Well, yes. No one can live on chocolate alone. (Trust me, its been tried.) However, chocolate is actually an ideal energy source due to its combination of slowly absorbed fat and quickly burned sugar energy.

As long as it is consumed in moderation, it can be a great part of your healthy food plan. Use your cocoa powder with non-fat milk to make hot chocolate for a relatively healthy treat or dip fruit chunks in melted dark chocolate for a sweet and nutrient packed dessert.



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