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Resveratrol Also Found in Dark Chocolate and Cocoa

chocolate cocoa resveratrol HersheyHershey's Center for Health and Nutrition has announced the publication of a study that shows resveratrol, a compound often associated with the health benefits of red wine, is also found in cocoa and dark chocolate products.

Scientists report that cocoa powder, baking chocolate and dark chocolate all have significant levels of resveratrol, a naturally occurring antioxidant.

Products from six categories were tested for the level of resveratrol and its sister compound, piceid. The six product categories included cocoa powder, baking chocolate, dark chocolate, semi-sweet baking chips, milk chocolate and chocolate syrup. Gram for gram, cocoa powder had the highest average amount of resveratrol and piceid, followed by baking chocolates, dark chocolates, semi-sweet chips, milk chocolate and then chocolate syrup.

The resveratrol levels of cocoa powders, baking chocolates and dark chocolate exceeded the levels for roasted peanuts and peanut butter per serving, but were less than California red wine.

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

Although Hershey has a clear and definite bias here, it has provided some interesting documentation of the levels of one of the most important antioxidants in many commercial cocoa products.

There are a number of studies showing the beneficial flavonols in chocolate.  However, this is one of the first that specifically identifies resveratrol as one of them.

What is Resveratrol?

The abundance of evidence emerging over the past decade about the health benefits of resveratrol has caused it to rise to the top of my list of favorite antioxidants.

Resveratrol is a very potent antioxidant compound (part of the family called polyphenols), produced by certain fruits and vegetables including grapes, raspberries, mulberries and peanuts.

The highest concentration of resveratrol in nature is found in muscadine grapes because of their extra thick skins and numerous seeds, where it is concentrated. Grapes produce resveratrol as a defense against fungi.

Many researchers believe that resveratrol is primarily responsible for what’s called the “French Paradox”: the observation that French people with poor diets who drink wine have better cardiovascular health than you might expect. The reason it is so concentrated in red wine is because of its high solubility in alcohol.  

Resveratrol is different from nearly all antioxidants because it can cross the blood-brain barrier to help protect your brain and nervous system.

Studies show that resveratrol may increase the lifespan in human cells, so it could be a key to extending your longevity. Resveratrol reduces oxidative stress damage to your cardiovascular system by neutralizing free radicals, and helps support your body’s natural defenses.

Resveratrol benefits you in many ways, including:
  • Protecting your cells from free radical damage
  • Inhibiting the spread of cancer, especially prostate cancer
  • Lowering your blood pressure
  • Keeping your heart healthy and improving elasticity in your blood vessels
  • Normalizing your anti-inflammatory response
There is also evidence that resveratrol can slow down the signs of aging and help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers have even found that a solution of resveratrol applied to fruit can triple its shelf life.

Is it any wonder the candy companies are eager to show you the presence of this wonder-molecule in their chocolate?

Is There Such a Thing as Bad Chocolate?

Unfortunately for you chocoholics, the answer is yes.  

For many of you who are fighting a health problem, you would be better offer avoiding all chocolate and relying on fruits and vegetables for your nutritional benefits. If you just can’t do it, then here are some guidelines that will maximize your nutritional value.

Before you make a dash down the candy aisle, you need to know that commercial cocoas and chocolates differ greatly in how many of the naturally present polyphenolic bioflavonoids survive processing. The key is to find chocolate products that employ the least destructive processing techniques.

The typical commercial chocolate has less than half of its flavonoids remaining after processing.

Eat only dark chocolate. Milk chocolate contains milk, and milk cancels out chocolate’s antioxidant effects, according to a study published in the journal Nature. Proteins in the milk bind with the antioxidants, making them less easily absorbed by your body.

Not only that, but pasteurized milk is something that is ideally avoided.

Dark chocolate contains less sugar than milk chocolate, although even most of the dark chocolate varieties contain quite a bit of sugar. Sugar can seriously impair the functioning of your immune system and should be avoided as much as possible.

Another concern about chocolate is lead content. Researchers have found that commercial chocolate can be contaminated with extremely high quantities of lead. It is currently unknown if this contamination is coming from the shipping or the manufacturing process.

It is best to stick with only dark, organic, unprocessed chocolate sources to minimize contamination risk. The closer the chocolate is to its original raw state, the better it is for you.

How much chocolate should you eat?

Here is a perfect example of when less is more. Researchers have just determined that eating a precise amount of chocolate—6.7 grams a day—offers you the best health benefits.  

6.7 grams of chocolate amounts to one small square of chocolate two or three times a week, which is less than half of a candy bar per week, when you are eating it for health reasons.

The best health benefits come from raw, unprocessed cacao, from which cocoa and chocolate is made.  However, it is very bitter and more than 95 percent of people don’t enjoy it.  

Several studies have shown that dark unprocessed chocolate can have some positive influences on your health, such as improving your:

  • Glucose metabolism (important for preventing diabetes)
  • Blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular system

Again, if you are struggling with disease of any kind (diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, cancer, etc.) you will want to consider opting out of eating chocolate altogether until you get those conditions under control.

And remember, always read those labels!

Many so-called “natural” chocolate products contain lots of unsavory ingredients (trans fats, corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, soy proteins, msg, preservatives, stabilizers, etc.).

Fortunately, you can enjoy the same nutritional benefits that cocoa and chocolate provide by consuming other fruits and vegetables, such as red grapes, apples, blueberries, spinach, kale and broccoli.  

Yes, not as much fun to eat as that chocolate heart, but so much better for you!

Chocolate Love Dates Back Thousands of Years

Cocoa has been around for thousands of years and has even been found in 2,600-year-old Mayan ceramic vessels in northern Belize. This pushes the onset of mankind’s love of chocolate back another 1,000 years from what we previously thought.  

If you call yourself a chocoholic, there might be more truth in that name than you realize.  

A chocolate addiction is a lot like drug addiction or alcoholism. Self-proclaimed “chocolate addicts” were found by researchers to eat more than twice as much chocolate as the non-addicts in one study.  

They also reported that the chocolate addicts showed a higher incidence of depression, anxiety, guilt, restlessness and frustration and even showed more bulimic eating behaviors than non-addicts.  

Substances in chocolate are known to have a psychoactive effect, raising endorphin levels in your brain. Scientists have even demonstrated that melting chocolate on your tongue is more stimulating than a passionate kiss!

Who knew?

Adam Drewnowski at the University of Michigan found that eating chocolate causes your brain to produce natural opiates, which dull pain and increase a feeling of well-being. Researchers at the Neurosciences Institute of San Diego found three chemical compounds in chocolate that mimic cannabinoids in your brain (the active ingredients in marijuana).

Clearly, you are up against some powerful forces when you eat chocolate!

How You Can Beat Those Chocolate Cravings

If you find yourself under chocolate’s intoxicating spell and are finding it difficult to resist the cravings, you are most likely not eating the correct balance of protein, fats, and carbohydrates for your nutritional type. Once you get most of the sugar out of your diet, your craving for sweets, including chocolate, will change dramatically.

If you tend to crave chocolate when you are upset, lonely or bored, then you could benefit from resolving these underlying emotional issues (and we all have them), which are driving you to seek comfort from chocolate.