The next food on my list earned its spot for three main reasons. It has been found to improve mood, memory and medical conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.
Superfood # 4 is Cocoa!
Cocoa contributes to a calming feeling because of its effect on serotonin but is also contains Phenylethylamine (a body chemical or neurotransmitter) and theobromine (an alkaloid, http://www.phytochemicals.info/phytochemicals/theobromine.php) which can produce a stimulating euphoric effect, and is considered a mood enhancer.
The ability of cocoa to boost memory was tested in a small clinical trial where 90 older individuals consumed 48 mg, 520 mg 994 mg of cocoa flavanols (CF) for 8 weeks. Cognitive function was assessed at baseline and after 8 wk and it was found to “reduce some measures of age-related cognitive dysfunction, possibly through an improvement in insulin sensitivity”, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25733639.
Metabolic and heart health are also improved with cocoa consumption. Research has shown bacteria in the gut ferments both the antioxidants and the fiber in cocoa to produce anti-inflammatory compounds that improve blood vessel function, http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-is-dark-chocolate-good-for-you-thank-your-microbes/, in addition to the heart benefits of lowering blood pressure and LDL cholesterol, raising HDL, improving type 2 diabetes and insulin sensitivity. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23870648.
Not many realize just how power packed cocoa is yet findings from Cornell University has shown cocoa has nearly twice the antioxidants of red wine, and up to three times the antioxidants found in green tea. It also contains magnesium, iron, chromium, vitamin C, zinc and other micronutrients.
Taste is an added bonus making chocolate that is higher in cocoa (85% or higher) and is minimally processed is sinful and healthy making it perfect addition to the list!
Why is the percentage of cocoa important? Because the higher the percentage of cacao, the lesser amounts of other unhealthy ingredients such as sugar and milk solids. The goal is to get as close to 100% cocoa as possible and avoid Dutch processing (cocoa that is treated with an alkali to neutralize its natural acidity). You will notice with lower amounts of unhealthy ingredients, healthy chocolate contains more cocoa, more fiber and more fat.
Fat absolutely does not detract from the health value of chocolate. The type of fat found in cocoa butter is unlikely to clog arteries. Most of that fat in cocoa butter contains the same monounsaturated fat as olive oil, oleic acid (known for supporting good heart-healthy) and stearic (a saturated fat) that has a neutral effect on cholesterol.
There are many brands of chocolate on the market. Selecting one that tastes good and fits the “healthy’ criteria mentioned above. Try these, it’s a good place to start:
- >90% Cocoa Lindt
- Vivani 85% Cocoa
- Endangered Species 88% Cocoa (one serving is 17 g of carbs so only do <1/3 of a bar)
It is important to keep in mind that just because chocolate is dark does not mean it is healthy. Read the labels on any product you purchase. Focus on the ingredients section to know what it is you are exactly eating.
Dark chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa is the perfect “guiltless” pleasure. So if you love chocolate, eat it! There is absolutely no reason not to indulge.