2. Cocoa (Chocolate)
Did you know that white chocolate’s not actually chocolate? Yes, my jaw dropped too. But in other news, for all of you chocolate lovers out there, a new study done by Hershey (surprise, surprise) shows that dark chocolate and cocoa powder (a.k.a. hot chocolate) have higher levels of antioxidants compared to their “super fruit” counterparts like blueberries, cranberries and pomegranates.
But wait, what are antioxidants and why are they important? As the name suggests, antioxidants prevent the body from undergoing oxidation. Oxidation is a normal process and is required by the body to function properly. Problems arise when factors like stress, smoking, or alcohol accelerates the natural rate of oxidation increasing the chances of producing “free radicals”. Free radicals are formed when the bond in an oxygen molecule improperly splits during respiration, leaving the atoms with unpaired valence electrons. In this state, they are unstable and in order to regain stability, they steal electrons from their neighbours. This creates another free radical and the cycle continues. Regardless of how “rad” these free radicals sound, they are dangerous when they react with cell membranes. The structures of cells change, leading to cancer, aging and all sorts of diseases. Thank goodness we have antioxidants because they act as a shield, reacting with free radicals before they can reach the cells in our bodies.
Now back to chocolate, to be more specific, the antioxidants present are polyphenols and flavonols. Any food with polyphenol or flavonol is considered a “superfood” due to their ability to defend against cardiovascular disease and to keep the arteries in check.
If you have to get the “healthier” version of chocolate, opt for a bar of dark chocolate and try to skip the hot chocolate. In the study, the chocolate used was dark and the cocoa power was “non-alkalized”. Cocoa normally has a bitter taste but the process of alkalization gives it the smooth, rich, chocolaty flavour we get from hot chocolate mixes. Alkalization unfortunately destroys most of the polyphenols leaving little to no antioxidants.
Obviously, we shouldn’t eat chocolate like there’s no tomorrow, but once in a while treat yourself! There’s antioxidants in there you know?