SO WHAT IS IT ABOUT CHOCOLATE that can turn it around from a delectable confection into a functional food with nutrigenomic properties ?
It's actually the polyphenols in cocoa powder that create the magic.
Polyphenols fall into the vast category of antioxidants, and then further categorised as flavonoids. The specific flavonoid found in cocoa is, proanthocyanin.
Before we can get down to how much cocoa or dark chocolate we can get into our diet, we need to talk about the processing of cocoa and how this can affect the flavonoid content - how much of the magic remains.
Once the cocoa beans have been roasted, the cocoa liquor goes through a fermentation process. The longer the liquor ferments, the higher the concentration of flavonoids.
To make cocoa powder, the cocoa is often alkalised to neutralise the natural acetic acid found in cocoa. This neutralising process is called 'dutching'. The level of dutching results in the amount of beneficial polyphenols that remain in the final product on the shop shelf.
Check that label before you choose and make sure that your chocolate or cocoa powder has a high level of non-fat cocoa solids.
HOW MUCH SHOULD I HAVE?
Well, sadly, an entire bar of sweetened milk chocolate may lead to weight gain and tooth decay, neither of which are beneficial.
100 g of high quality dark chocolate per day or 40 g of high quality cocoa powder in 500 ml of skimmed milk or plant-based milk with a teeny bit of maple syrup, honey or stevia may provide multiple health benefits, including improved cholesterol levels in some people.
The anti-inflammatory properties in cocoa may help to stimulate changes in gene expression and the immune response. The high magnesium content in chocolate is a bonus for multiple biological processes.
Cocoa can protect nerves from injury and inflammation as well as protect the skin from oxidative damage caused by the sun's UV rays.
So go ahead and treat yourself to some guilt-free indulgence.