Many of us take the bait at the word “antioxidant,” buying health and beauty products without knowing exactly how these mysterious compounds actually benefit us. Let's clear that up: “Antioxidants act like little bodyguards to protect our cells from damage that can lead to premature aging and disease,” explains Cynthia Sass, Health’s contributing nutrition editor. They neutralize harmful free radicals, molecules that play a role in cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and more.
Dark chocolate may have something in common with carrots: Researchers from the University of Reading in England tested the eyesight of 30 healthy adults, 18 to 25 years old, after they ate white and dark chocolates. The subjects performed better on vision tests after eating the dark chocolate. It could be that the flavanols in dark chocolate, which improve blood flow to the brain, improve blood flow to the retina as well — and white chocolate doesn’t have nearly the same amount of flavanols as dark chocolate.
There is increasing evidence that antioxidants are more effective when obtained from whole foods, rather than isolated from a food and presented in tablet form – and some supplements can actually increase cancer risk. For instance, vitamin A (beta-carotene) has been associated with a reduced risk of certain cancers, but an increase in others, such as lung cancer in smokers, if vitamin A is purified from foodstuffs.
Chocolate tastes sinfully sweet, but you may no longer need to feel guilty about indulging in an ounce or two a few times a week. A growing number of studies show that chocolate, especially antioxidant-rich dark chocolate, has health benefits that put it squarely on the latest list of superfoods. A key reason chocolate has so many health benefits is that it is rich in flavonoids, which are naturally occurring substances found in plants that can provide a serious boost in antioxidant action for you.
On January 2, a snail named George shriveled up and died in his tank at the University of Hawaii. He was 14 years old, which for a land snail is pretty long in the tooth (or in George's case, radula). But in all of his years, George never sired any offspring. There were simply no mating partners to be found. In fact, George was the last known member of his species, Achatinella apexfulva. And the moment he slimed off this mortal coil, 2019 experienced its first documented extinction.
Eleanor Healy is a writer with a passion for holistic health. As a Registered Holistic Nutritionist (RHN), Reiki Master/Teacher and former Child and Youth Care worker, she spent many years navigating the choppy waters of burnout and trying to stay balanced in a demanding world. Her mission is to offer practical tips and techniques from her own trial and error process, so that you can live your best life! Follow Eleanor on Facebook and keep in touch with her at [email protected].
Efforts to mimic nature’s antioxidants have largely failed. In fact, some antioxidant supplements, such as vitamin E and beta-carotene, are even harmful to health in large doses. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) recommends, “Do not use antioxidant supplements to replace a healthy diet or conventional medical care, or as a reason to postpone seeing a healthcare provider about a medical problem. If you are considering a dietary supplement, first get information on it from reliable sources.” Dietary supplements contain active ingredients, so always check for interactions with your medications.
Some nutrients are destroyed in the process of making chocolate available for the general market. Make sure the chocolate you buy is within the healthy range. Check the label: chocolate with a 60 percent or higher cocoa content is packed full of nutrients and antioxidants. Often called bittersweet, it has minimal sugar. The best way to get all the nutrients from chocolate is simply to use unsweetened cocoa nibs. The bitter, crunchy, seed-like snack isn't the best-tasting treat, but its nutritional profile makes it worthwhile.
Observational studies support the benefits of cocoa flavanols. The link between blood pressure and high cocoa intake was described in a study of the Kuna Indians, an isolated tribe who live on the Caribbean Coast of Panama.  Hypertension was extremely uncommon in this group, even among older ages, and even with a dietary salt intake that is greater than most Western populations. When the Kuna migrated to urban environments and changed their diets, their rates of high blood pressure increased. Notably, their traditional intake of cocoa as a beverage was very high, at more than five cups daily of either home-grown or Columbian cocoa powder rich in flavanols. The urinary levels of flavanols in the island-dwelling Kuna were significantly higher and their rates of death from heart disease, cancer, and diabetes significantly lower than their counterparts living in urban centers.
These broccoli cousins have plenty of bitter sulforaphane as well as compounds called isothiocyanates, which detoxify cancer-causing substances in the body before they can do their dirty work. In one Dutch study, guys who ate Brussels sprouts daily for three weeks had 28 percent less genetic damage (gene damage is a root cause of cancer) than those who didn’t eat sprouts. You won’t believe the way Brussels sprouts are grown.
Due to the higher cocoa content, dark chocolate has a much richer flavor than milk chocolate. The higher the percentage of cocoa, the richer the taste. Cocoa is naturally bitter and very strong-tasting. Chocolate-makers (especially makers of milk chocolate) mellow this flavor by processes, such as alkalizing, fermenting, roasting, and adding milk and/or sugar, all of which can destroy healthy flavanols, alter our ability to use them or negate their health effects all together with unhealthy additives.
So what did the study show? The researchers found that the flavanol content of cocoa powder (30.1 milligrams per gram) was significantly greater than all of the other super fruit powders. It was also revealed that dark chocolate’s antioxidant capacity was higher than all of the super fruit juices except pomegranate. The total polyphenol content per serving was also highest for dark chocolate (about 1,000 milligrams per serving), which was significantly higher than all of the fruit juices except pomegranate juice. (11)