Chocolate lovers, rejoice. When eaten in moderation, semisweet chocolate chips containing 70 percent cacao may offer more health benefits than you’ve ever dreamed possible. These tasty morsels can offer a quick pick-me-up, lower your blood pressure, control appetite and improve blood circulation. In short, indulging in healthy semisweet chocolate chips can keep your brain sharp, your blood flowing and your heart healthy.
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Cacao trees (Theobroma cacao) originated in South and Central America. The soft white meat that encompasses the cacao beans was eaten and enjoyed by members of the Olmecs, Mayans and Aztecs. Along with the modern discoveries of chocolate’s benefits, the healing leaders of these tribes used chocolate to treat fever, shortness of breath and weak hearts. A paste made from the beans was also used to help patients consume less appealing medicines. It was later discovered that chocolate had an accelerant effect on the medicines taken, a fact well known among apothecaries today. It wasn’t until 1828 that chocolate became a popular treat among the Europeans.
Semisweet chocolate contains an impressive oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) value of 18,053 micromoles in 100 grams. These powerful antioxidants are responsible for protecting your body from oxygen free radicals that cause you to age. The flavonoids in semisweet chocolate help protect your low-density-lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol from oxidation, thus preventing the dreaded “bad cholesterol.” Interestingly, according to Harvard University, when chocolate is combined with dairy milk, these antioxidant benefits are prevented. Traditionally, semisweet chocolate does not contain any milk, but manufacturers may hold artistic licensing on this tradition, so read the label before consuming this tasty treat.
Chocolate is packed with polyphenols, including catechins and procyanidins, which have been proved to inhibit LDL oxidation and atherogenesis. A study published by "The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" concluded that taking 26 grams of cacao powder and 12 grams of sugar per day for 12 weeks, suppressed LDL oxidation. This suppression enabled the good high-density-lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol concentrations to increase, thus resulting in an overall cholesterol level improvement.
Because chocolate is rich in flavanols, which help increase blood flow, your brain benefits immensely. According to the "International Journal of Medical Sciences," the gray matter in your brain increases in function for two to three hours after consuming chocolate. These high levels of tryptophan, phenylalanine and tyrosine are amino acids that supply you with nitrogen-rich compounds -- the basic building blocks for proteins. Because two of these amino acids act as precursors for adrenaline and dopamine, chocolate induces feelings of pleasure. So, adding a small handful of semisweet chocolate chips to a steaming cup of hot coconut milk may be just what you need to keep your brain sharp, healthy and happy.
Combine this treat with a glass of red wine, and you have a powerful antioxidant combination that provides a polyphenol called resveratrol, which has been proved to be effective in reducing inflammation. Because chocolate is also high in magnesium, your overly tight muscles may thank you as well.
Indulging in a small handful (approximately 15 grams) of semisweet chocolate chips containing 70 percent cacao offers a multitude of health benefits, but it is an indulgence. Moderation is the key. Some people have negative reactions to chocolate and may be on medications that contradict the consumption of chocolate, so check with your doctor before exploring this type of treat.