by Timothy Prahl
There has been a lot of publicity lately about the potential health benefits of quality Dark Chocolate. The primary area of benefit appears to be related to the extremely high concentrations of "antioxidants" in the raw cocoa bean, the source for chocolate.
An antioxidant is a molecule that is capable of slowing or preventing the oxidation process in other molecules.
Oxidation is a chemical process in which an electron is attracted from a stable substance and moves to an unrelated oxidizing agent. Oxidation reactions can be caused by "free radical" molecules, which by themselves, can cause harmful chain reactions that will damage otherwise healthy cells.
Healthy dark chocolate is an excellent source for providing your system with high concentrations of antioxidants, which can neutralize and thus limit the damaging effects of free radical molecules in your body
Let's take a look at this cell damaging villain ... the "Free Radical".
Free radicals are not the result of disease or injury. They are created naturally in our bodies as the result certain chemical reactions, such as generating energy to feed our cells during physical exertion. They can also be imported into your system through cigarette smoke and other airborne pollutants.
Free radicals are chemically imbalanced, missing one or more electrons and thus having a 'positive' charge.
These radical molecules will seek to balance their charge, and will attract or 'steal' electrons from other molecules, including the molecules that make up your body's DNA and the mitochondria in your cells.
The mitochondria creates the energy necessary to sustain the life of the cells. Damaged mitochondria are weak and have lower energy and less resistance to disease.
Your body's cellular DNA carries the blueprint necessary for duplicating and producing new cells.
When the DNA is altered as a result of the free radical, the new cells that are created are imperfect and possibly malignant with the potential to form tumors or cancers.
Free Radicals are linked as a significant cause of most degenerative diseases, including heart disease, premature aging, diabetes, high blood pressure, and the creation of cancer cells and tumors.
Enter Antioxidants! Antioxidants are molecules that have available one or more FREE electrons. They therefore have a "negative" charge, and attract wandering, positively charged Free Radical, rendering them neutral and removing the threat to healthy cells. This free radical is now chemically balanced, and is no longer a threat to 'steal' electrons from your body's healthy cells.
So, having established the vital importance of having free radical neutralizing antioxidant molecules in your body ... where do they come from?
The human body is an amazing organism. Much of what our body requires to sustain life can be generated from within. This also holds true for antioxidants; however, dietary supplementation is also required.
Vitamin C is a good example. Unlike most other animals, vitamin C is NOT created within the human body and must be acquired through diet.
Most people are well aware of the importance of a consistent source of vitamin C in their diet. Vitamin C is a monosaccharide antioxidant, and proper levels must be maintained either through diet or supplementation in order to maintain a healthy body.
So, what relationship do antioxidants have with a quality dark chololate?
Scientists have known for years that cocoa contains significantly high levels of antioxidants.
According to research cited in The New York Times, fresh cocoa beans are super-rich in the type of flavonoid called flavanols, which are very strong antioxidants. All 3 known flavanols are found in the cocoa bean at an amazing 10% antioxidant concentration level.
Another research study conducted by researchers of the Department of Food Science and Technology at Cornell University showed that flavanols in cocoa make blood platelets less likely to stick together and cause blood clots. They also prevented fatty substances in the blood stream from sticking together and clogging arteries.
So, simply eat chocolate and gain these healthy benefits? Well, it is not nearly that simple. Any product can technically be called chocolate if it is the result of processing of the cocoa bean; however, very few of these products would realistically qualify for a clinical definition of being 'healthy'.
An understanding of how the cocoa beans are processed and the type and quantity of additives in order to create a specific chocolate product is essential for determining potential health benefits.
The multitude of Health benefits certainly appears to justify doing some research and identifying a source for antioxidant rich, Healthy Dark Chocolate.
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