Products containing chocolate have been prized as very special treats for hundreds of years. In recent years, studies are showing extraordinary health giving qualities in chocolate after the milk, sugar and high fructose corn syrup are stripped away. The phytochemicals (nutrients derived from plants) in chocolate are some of the most concentrated and powerful in any food source. These plant nutrients have fancy names but don’t let their names fool you. They all have flavonoid and antioxidant qualities that are unrivaled in the plant kingdom.

Procyanidin flavonoids, epicatechins and catechins are what make chocolate one of the world’s most potent super foods. Over 10 percent of the weight of pure cocoa powder is flavonoids. There is a small fraction of theobromine, about 1.2 percent in chocolate as well. Surprisingly, during research it was found that pure cocoa powder actually has less caffeine than a cup of decaffeinated coffee.

The flavonoids found in cocoa have been found in studies to be cardioprotective. In other words, they protect heart and circulatory health and studies show that they are more protective than those found in green tea and red wine. In fact, constituents in the cocoa are found to inhibit oxidative stress which accelerates aging.

Flavonoid research measuring blood levels at various time intervals, just before eating, in addition to one, two and six hours after eating, showed that most flavonoids peak at one hour after ingestion and were almost gone within 6 hours. These tests support the dietary suggestion of eating at least 5 servings a day of fruits and vegetables to maintain a continuous supply of flavonoids to the body.

Studies were also done to determine whether ingestion of the procyanidins in the chocolate had any antioxidant effects in humans. Since there are approximately 6 to 7 times more epicatechins than catechins in cocoa derived chocolate, most of the attention was focused on the epicatechins. Tests during studies showed that it was absorbed very rapidly and produced a marked increase of blood antioxidant activity, in addition to a significant reduction of what is called lipid peroxidation. This is where free radicals ping electrons from essential fatty acids in cells and cell walls, stealing their electrons and damaging them. It is a strong contributor to the aging process.

The best way to get the flavonoids from healthy chocolate is to either buy a good quality 70 to 85 percent chocolate and eat a square or two per day, or make hot chocolate with it. The healthiest way to make the hot chocolate is to use pure cocoa power.

Put a heaping teaspoonful of cocoa in a cup and make a paste with some unsweetened almond milk, until it is smooth, without any lumps. Keep adding more almond milk until the cup is full, stirring constantly to mix it. Add enough stevia to sweeten to taste. Pour the mixture into a small saucepan to heat, then pour it back into the cup to drink it. It’s healthy, satisfies the sweet tooth and provides some of your antioxidant needs for the day.

Like any food, moderation is key. Just because chocolate is one of the world’s greatest super foods, doesn’t mean you should fill up on candy bars and boxes of chocolates. Those chocolates are full of sugar, high fructose corn syrup and dairy. To consume chocolate properly, remember that chocolate should be treated like a vegetable. It is made from beans, cocoa beans that is, and should be just one part of a healthy lifestyle of balanced eating.

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