Eating certain types of chocolate has positive effects on stress levels, mood, inflammation, memory and immunity, findings of two new studies have revealed.
Lee Berk, from Loma Linda University, and colleagues who conducted the two studies found that chocolate-influenced gene activity increased infection-fighting cells and anti-inflammatory agents. They also found that these treats can positively impact brain function such as creativity and cognitive functions.
"This is the first time that we have looked at the impact of large amounts of cacao in doses as small as a regular-sized chocolate bar in humans over short or long periods of time, and are encouraged by the findings," Berk said.
Berk and colleagues recommended chocolate with a high concentration of cacao: those with a minimum of 70 percent cacao and 30 percent organic cane sugar.
"The higher the concentration of cacao, the more positive the impact on cognition, memory, mood, immunity and other beneficial effects," Berk added.
Given the number and variety of chocolates available in the market, there are other things that consumers may want to consider when buying chocolates to ensure they get the healthiest possible treat.
It is best to go for dark chocolate with the fewest ingredients. Some ingredients are added to dark chocolate to improve the flavor, appearance, and shelf life. Some of these are harmless while others may have a negative impact on the quality of the chocolate.
Sugar is usually added to dark chocolate to balance the bitter taste. The rule of thumb is to choose chocolate that does not have the sugar listed first on their list of ingredients. Go for brands that list sugar last. Chocolates with a higher cocoa percentage also tend to have lower sugar content.
High-quality dark chocolate need not have any milk added to it except milk fat. Lecithin is neither required to make dark chocolate.
Dutching, a chocolate processing method that involves treatment with alkali, changes the color of the chocolate and reduce the bitter flavor. Studies, however, have shown that Dutching can significantly reduce the amount of the beneficial antioxidants in chocolate. Look for lines like "cocoa processed with alkali" when checking chocolate labels.
Choosing organic chocolate may reduce an exposure to pesticides used to spray on the beans and other artificial chemicals.