Fortified Health Club: Small Changes Make Big Impacts

Chocolate, a Healthy Indulgence?

Chocolate.

It’s America’s favorite sweet, delectable treat, and at this time of the year, it’s everywhere, including on our list of health foods.

You may be asking yourself, how on earth could Fortified Health Club be deeming chocolate a health food?

Well, we’re turning to some mad scientists for the skinny on why chocolate is receiving accolades for heart health, insulin regulation, and even brain boosting.

And in perfect timing, with Valentine's Day right around the corner!

The secret is cacao, the plant substance that cocoa and chocolates are made from. This little disease-fighting bullet is packed with flavonoids and antioxidants. As it turns out, you can indulge, without sacrificing your health.

The Benefits of Chocolate

You’re probably more familiar with cocoa, which is cacao in its roasted and ground form, but the super-food powers of raw cacao are incredible.

In fact, a long-term study in Germany found that one square of dark chocolate a day lowered blood pressure and reduced the risk of heart attack and stroke by 39 percent. Most of the credit goes to those flavonoids, antioxidant compounds that increase the flexibility of veins and arteries.

An Italian study even showed that participants who ate a candy bar’s worth of dark chocolate once a day for 15 days saw their potential for insulin resistance drop by nearly half.

“Flavonoids increase nitric oxide production,” said lead researcher Claudio Ferri, a medical doctor and professor at the University of L'Aquila in Italy. “And that helps control insulin sensitivity.”

Chocolate can even help with weight loss.

Sounds too good to be true, right?

Stress and its nasty assistant, Cortisol, can throw your body for a weight-gaining loop. However, a Swiss study found that when people suffering from anxiety ate an ounce of dark chocolate a day for two weeks, their stress hormone levels were significantly reduced, and the metabolic effects of stress were partially mitigated.

Believe it or not, your brain benefits from chocolate, too.

An Oxford study looked at chocolate’s long-term effects on the brain by studying the diets of more than 2,000 people over age 70. They found that those who consumed flavonoid-rich chocolate, wine, or tea scored significantly higher on cognitive tests than those who didn’t.

So, the question should be, is there anything chocolate can’t do?

All of those benefits sound great to me! But before you run out and pick up a Nestle bar, a word of warning:

Don’t expect to benefit from the sugary, mass-produced chocolates on the market today.

Not all chocolate is created equal.

What to Avoid

High-fructose corn syrup

This stuff is nasty.

In a study by Princeton University, high-fructose corn syrup was found to prompt significantly more weight gain in participants than conventional sugars. This super-sugar is highly linked to obesity, and you’ll want to make sure that it’s not hidden within your nice dark chocolate.

Genetically-modified Organisms (GMOs)

GMOs often can be found hidden within lecithin, which are thickening agents used in chocolate products to give them that nice, thick texture. Manufacturers only have to use lecithin when natural cocoa fat is no longer present.

In other words, if you’re seeing a lot of lecithin on the list of ingredients, you’re not getting the high amount of cocoa butter or the true cocoa you could be getting. You’re looking at a chocolate-like product, as opposed to actual chocolate. If that’s the case, you may want to opt for a different bar.

Partially hydrogenated oils

If you’re going for health benefits, stay far away from partially hydrogenated oils.

These are trans fats, pure and simple.

You do not want to eat anything containing trans fats or vegetable oils. Cocoa already has a natural high-fat content. Cocoa butter, the natural oil, found in the cocoa bean, is a perfect example. Pure chocolates have plenty of cocoa butter, meaning, adding man-made fats are unnecessary.

So look out for those added oils and fats. They don’t need to be there.

Artificial colors and flavors

Forego any bars that have artificial colors or flavors. We know that these are merely chemicals designed to trick your brain into believing you’re eating the real thing.

Do you want to be tricked? No!

So just eat the real thing.

What We Recommend

There are certainly arguments that the disease-fighting properties of cacao are reduced in the cocoa form, so nothing is better than raw chocolate.

The next-best thing is Organic chocolate, which ensures that you’re getting no pesticides or chemicals.

We also recommend a cocoa content of 70 percent or higher. You want to make sure you’re getting those flavonoids and antioxidants.

Make sure your chocolate bar is sweetened with stevia, honey, or organic sugar, and be sure your bar is "Non-GMO Product Verified" to avoid lecithin, surprise ingredients derived from soy, or other genetically modified organisms.

Obviously, if you have a bar that has any milk or lecithin added to it, make sure it’s Organic milk or Organic soy, so you’re not getting chemicals, pesticides, or added hormones.

Chocolate is a health food!

So go ahead and indulge your romantic, stress-relieving, heart-protecting, brain-boosting treat this month, and go for it.

And hey, why not keep at it all year round?