This article was originally published on dLife.com—a website dedicated to helping people with diabetes live happier and healthier lives—as "Improvements on Injecting Insulin," and is reposted with permission from the author.
You've probably heard that chocolate has health benefits, but never thought of it as diabetes-friendly. Surprise! Check out what a superfood chocolate really is.
The chocolate that melts on your tongue and dazzles your tastebuds is the result of long refining process. It begins with beans harvested from cacao (pronounced kuh- KAH-oh) trees. Cacao beans are fermented, dried, roasted, and ground. Then they're turned into cocoa butter (a smooth, solid fat), chocolate liquor (ground or melted cacao beans), and cocoa powder (the nonfat part of the bean).
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The Many Shades of Delicious
Unsweetened chocolate is chocolate in its rawest form and is also known as bitter chocolate or baking chocolate. It's pure chocolate liquor, which is about half cocoa butter. No sugar is added, so this chocolate has a strong, bitter taste.
Dark chocolate is made by adding more fat and sugar to chocolate liquor. The cacao content of dark chocolate can range from 30 to 99 percent, but is usually between 65 to 80 percent. Cacao content is the total percentage of components derived from the cacao bean. There are several types of dark chocolate.
Bittersweet chocolate contains a small amount of sugar, cocoa butter, lecithin, and vanilla. It has a cacao content of at least 35 percent and may go up to 80 percent.
Semisweet chocolate contains slightly more sugar and has a cacao content of at least 35 percent.
Sweet dark chocolate is dark chocolate with a high percentage of sugar. It only has a cacao content between 20 to 40 percent.
Milk chocolate is made by combining chocolate liquor, extra cocoa butter, flavorings, and milk. Depending on the product, it may contain fresh, sweetened condensed, or powdered milk.
White chocolate contains cocoa butter but no chocolate liquor or any other cocoa products. Some purists don't consider it "real" chocolate at all.
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Go for Dark
Although milk chocolate is the most popular type of chocolate, it's dark chocolate that offers the health benefits. Cacao beans contain antioxidants — such as flavonoids and polyphenols — that protect your cells from the kinds of damage that's associated with many chronic diseases.
Because dark chocolate has a higher percentage of cacao, it delivers more antioxidant power than milk chocolate. In fact, ounce for ounce, dark chocolate contains more antioxidants than blueberries, green tea, or red wine. To get the most health benefits, you should choose chocolate with at least a 60 percent cacao content.
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We Heart Chocolate
Studies have shown that the antioxidants found in dark chocolate can improve blood flow, reduce blood pressure, maintain healthy arteries, and lower your risk of heart disease.
Flavonoids keep LDL (bad) cholesterol from gathering in blood vessels and reduce the risk of blood clots. Flavonoids can also help increase your levels of HDL (good) cholesterol. Polyphenols prevent fat-like substances in your blood from oxidizing and clogging arteries. Chocolate also triggers the production of nitric oxide, which relaxes and dilates blood vessels. This allows more blood to pass through, lowering blood pressure.
Chocolate & Diabetes
If you have diabetes, you may think that you need to avoid chocolate altogether. But research suggests that dark chocolate may have benefits for people with diabetes, when eaten in moderation. Dark chocolate has a low glycemic index and won't spike blood sugar. Studies have shown that dark chocolate may also reduce insulin resistance and help the body process glucose better. The flavonoids found in chocolate can improve circulation, which may reduce the risk of neuropathy in people with diabetes.
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Your Brain on Chocolate
The next time you need a brain power boost, try reaching for a square of dark chocolate. The way the flavonoids in dark chocolate dilate blood vessels increases blood flow to key areas in the brain. This may improve mental performance and boost alertness. Eating dark chocolate has also been shown to improve brain function in people suffering from sleep deprivation.
Curb Cravings with Chocolate
It sounds too good to be true, but eating chocolate in moderation may help you manage your weight. A 2011 study showed that people who ate dark chocolate felt more satiated afterwards than did people who ate milk chocolate. Dark chocolate satisfies your "sweet tooth" for a longer time and may curb cravings.
Come On, Get Happy
When you're sad or stressed, does chocolate make you feel better? It's not just in your head. Dark chocolate really does make you feel good because it contains mood- elevating compounds. It contains caffeine, which stimulates the central nervous system, increases blood flow to the brain, decreases fatigue, enhances alertness, and improves mood overall. It also contains small amounts of theobromine and phenethylamine (PEA), central nervous stimulants that trigger the release of feel-good chemicals called endorphins. Dark chocolate also increases the brain's level of serotonin, a chemical that plays a major role in mood and emotional health.
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Love & Chocolate
Chocolate and love seem to go hand and hand. Think Valentine's Day or the classic first date. And it has long been believed that chocolate is an aphrodisiac. A recent study showed that women who ate dark chocolate on a daily basis had higher sexual function than women who didn't. Chocolate's ability to increase levels of the brain chemical serotonin increases sexual desire and responsiveness. The PEA in dark chocolate enhances the activity of dopamine, a chemical in the brain associated with sexual arousal. PEA is also released by the brain when people are falling in love. It's no wonder that chocolate and love are so linked in our minds!