This is a guest post by Rich Carroll
Adding chocolate to your diet may be more than just a guilty pleasure. Studies have revealed that chocolate may provide protection for your nervous system, and is one of those foods that will provide healthy aging for everyone. Their naturally occurring chemicals provide many benefits to our system; probably the most beneficial being its antioxidant properties. The polyphenols in cocoa, the fundamental component in chocolate, are found to increase levels of good cholesterol while reducing bad cholesterol by preventing its oxidation.
Other reasons why chocolate are good medicine is:
1. It gives you a nice psychological boost.
2. Can inhibit inflammation within the brain, which could be the cause of migraine headaches.
3. May shield the brain from stroke.
4. Increases the flow of cerebral blood flow.
5. Can guard against dementia.
When we speak of getting chocolate into your diet, there are some caveats. We are talking of pure unadulterated dark chocolate, and much of the chocolate found on store shelves has very little real chocolate in them. Many chocolate brands are high in sugar, unhealthy saturated fats and calories. Don't expect the same health benefits from some candy bar loaded with caramel, marshmallow and other sugars to make it taste good. Also, milk chocolate isn't the same as pure unadulterated dark chocolate. Milk chocolate, in addition to normally having higher sugar content often prevents the absorption of healthy polyphenols.
Chocolate's history can be traced to central America, where it played a role in Aztec and Mayan religious events. They fermented, roasted and ground the beans of the cacao plant, and when the European invaders came into contact with chocolate they named it after the native word meaning "bitter water". They sweetened the beverage with refined sugar, but unlike the native American product it never entered the mainstream diet of Europeans.
Chocolate remained quite unchanged for centuries, and it wasn't until the Nineteenth Century that John Cadbury in Briton developed an emulsification process that made chocolate solid. This was the beginning of the modern chocolate bar. The Industrial Revolution in Great Britain brought chocolate to the world. The combination of technology to mass produce the product, large amounts of sugar being imported from the West Indies plus the ability of more people with more discretionary income to buy non-essential food items, candy became a huge industry.
But as with any good, healthy food products, we have taken an extremely healthy natural food and for commercial purposes have turned it into a processed product that can do the human body more harm than good. That is where we must do our due diligence as consumers to make sure we are buying right. How do we know what the healthiest chocolate is when we shop? To really get it right you have to become proficient at reading labels.
Calories have to be balanced with the health benefits you receive from cocoa. Which means you can't go on a chocolate binge. The higher percentage of cocoa in the chocolate will generally be better for you. Although there are no clear definitions of what constitutes dark chocolate, it is generally thought that it has to be at least 60%. Milk chocolate has far less, as little as 15%, and white chocolate has none at all. Dark chocolate with 85% cocoa will have a more bitter taste than you may be used to in your chocolate, but the higher percentage the better.
There are many things we can do to help us become healthier and to age better, and exercise is certainly a big part of it. Seniors are now getting more into yoga and other exercises such as Pilates to keep young. Rich Carroll is a writer and avid health advocate now living in Chicago.