A small dark chocolate candy bar, or about half of one full size candy bar a day is actually good for you! The reason for this is that dark chocolate has a high cocoa content and cocoa is loaded with epicatechin. Epicatechin is a particularly active member of a group of compounds called plant flavonoids.
Flavonoids are found in dark leafy vegetables and contain antioxidants which protect the body from free radicals that can cause damage to the heart and help reduce blood pressure. Since cocoa beans are plant based, they have many of the same benefits of dark leafy vegetables. Antioxidants scavenge the free-radicals that are responsible for oxidative damage. In fact, dark chocolate contains nearly 8 times the number of antioxidants and flavonoids found in strawberries!
Dark chocolate has also been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) by up to 10 percent. LDL cholesterol refers to low density lipoprotein cholesterol. When your blood is checked for cholesterol, the doctors will be looking at both HDL – the good cholesterol and LDL –the bad cholesterol. Too much LDL in your blood can build up in the arteries.
However, not all chocolate is created equal. Dark chocolate contains a lot more cocoa than other forms of chocolate like white or milk chocolate. Standard manufacturing can destroy up to half of the flavoniods, so you want to make sure you buy high quality chocolate and read the lable. The higher the cocoa content, the healthier it is. In fact, why not take an international cocoa plantation tour to find the best cocoa in central and south America.
In Ticul, Mexico, there is a relatively new chocolate plantation. The plantation is relatively new because the plantation is only 5 years old and it takes 10 years for a cocoa plant to reach maturation. However, with tender loving care, most cocoa trees begin to bear fruit in the fifth year, although some cocoa trees can yield pods in the third and forth years. A cocoa tree reaches peek production in about 10 years and can continue to produce pods for up to 30-40 years. At the plantation in Ticul, the seedlings and plants are sheltered by other trees, like banana, plantain, coconuts or hardwood trees to protect them from the wind and sun. Plantation farmers in Ticul care for the cocoa plants and other plants very carefully and the plantation is thriving.
When you are travelling internationally to find the best cocoa beans and dark chocolate, make sure you have international health insurance. Your domestic carrier does not cover you outside the border, so make sure you purchase medical travel insurance to ensure your trip is safe and sweet!