Recently, dark chocolate has gotten a lot of media attention, and the reports state that dark chocolate may protect your cardiovascular health.
In reality, the color of the chocolate is not a primary determining factor of its health benefits. What makes chocolate good for you is the plant nutrients called cocoa flavanols, which are found in their pure form in cocoa beans.
Most commercially available chocolate is highly processed. The more processed the cocoa beans, the less flavanols remain as well as fewer health benefits.
What are cocoa flavanols?
They are a class of natural compounds called flavanoids, found in certain fruits, vegetables, teas and wine, and appreciated for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. But the flavonoids found in cocoa beans, also know as flavanols, are special, because, in addition to having antioxidant properties, they have a protective influence on cardiovascular health. They help relax and expand the blood vessels, help maintain their elasticity, lowering blood pressure, and increase blood flow to the brain.* An increased blood flow to the brain can help retain and improve memory.
How cocoa flavanols are eliminated during the conventional chocolate-making process.
As cacao seeds are being fermented and roasted to become chocolate, they undergo intense processing to dilute and hide their intense flavor and smooth out their texture. One of the processing techniques, called “dutching” washes the beans in a potassium carbonate solution. It is very effective at removing the bitterness, controlling the texture, and even makes the chocolate darker, but unfortunately, it’s equally good at destroying the flavanols. As a result, the healthful aspects of chocolate are markedly reduced.
The bottom line.
The health benefits of chocolate are not necessarily correlated with the color of the chocolate, and dark is not always an indicator of the flavanol content. To make sure you are getting a chocolate with health benefits, look for the numerical indication of the flavanol content on a label.