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Antioxidants in Dark Chocolate

By Silvia Nena

Dark chocolate is loaded with flavonoids, antioxidants that have been shown in medical studies to offer protection to the vascular system, heart and brain. As more studies associate an increasing number of health benefits to its high anti-oxidant content, dark chocolate has become a celebrity food.

What Are Antioxidants?

Antioxidants are plant compounds that researchers believe help fight the cell damage caused by too many free radicals in the body. There are thousands of types of antioxidants and they are abundant in plant-based foods. Antioxidants are believed to reduce the risk of certain diseases, including heart disease. In fact, a 2010 Harvard study published in "Circulation: Heart Failure," a journal of the American Heart Association, showed a 32 percent reduction in the risk of heart failure development in women who ate 1 to 3 servings of dark chocolate -- 30 percent cocoa content -- per month. It is important to note, however, that increased servings were shown to have a detrimental effect on overall health.

What Are Flavonoids?

Flavonoids are anti-oxidant compounds. The flavonoids found in chocolate are called flavonols. They are what give the pungent taste to cocoa. According to a UC Davis Department of Nutrition fact sheet, flavonols have been shown to be effective in scavenging free radicals and increasing antioxidant activity in blood cells while decreasing DNA damage, or "oxidation" of certain cells.

Dark Chocolate Benefits

Research into the benefits of flavonoids has shown a positive influence in lowering blood pressure, reducing blood clotting and improving blood flow to the heart and brain. That means that flavonols may be an important part of maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system. A 2010 German study published in the "European Heart Journal" showed that modest dark chocolate intake in men appeared to reduce blood pressure, heart disease and stroke risk. Furthermore, a 2009 Oxford University study on the effects of flavonoids on memory, showed that modest amounts of dark chocolate consumption appeared to improve cognitive abilities.

Moderation Is Key

Chocolate is high in calories. It contains significant amounts of fat and sugar, which can contribute to weight gain, eliminating its antioxidant benefits. Moderation is the key to enjoying the health benefits of chocolate. Look for high-quality dark chocolate that contains a 30 percent or higher concentration of cocoa. The type of cocoa used will also dictate flavonol content. Cocoa that has undergone a Dutch process will have a lower amount of flavonols than nonprocessed cocoa.

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