Chocolate May Soon Be Healthier And More Delicious

Close-up of chocolate sauce on a cake
Close-up of chocolate sauce on a cake

Did you hear that? The faint, sweet sound of children laughing? This may be because researchers may have found a way to make chocolate more nutritious and taste even better that it currently does.

Chocolate is already revered as a healthy power player: Some kinds have been shown to lower risk for stroke, boost mood and potentially serve as brain food, helping people to feel more awake and focused. Plus, its special well of antioxidants may help improve memory.

To further amplify chocolate's street cred, Emmanuel Ohene Afoakwa, Ph.D., who is at the University of Ghana, and his team added a step to the process that is used to transform cocoa beans into the chocolate you'd find in a candy store. In chocolate's conventional procedure, cocoa beans are roasted to form a palatable chocolate product. During the roasting period, the beans lose some of their heart-healthy antioxidants (polyphenols).

Afoakwa and his team stored the cocoa bean pods before their fermenting and roasting process, hoping to retain some of the lost nutrients. To gauge the effect of pod-storage, researchers divided 300 cocoa pods into four groups. The first group of pods underwent the traditional process for making chocolate: The beans are removed from their pods, fermented in a basket for a few days and set out in the sun to dry. They are then roasted.

The three remaining groups of pods were stored -- a method called "pulp preconditioning" -- for three, seven or 10 days before going through the typical fermentation and drying process. Afoakwa says the group of pods that were stored 10 days contained more antioxidants than any other group after roasting.

The researchers added a second alteration to cocoa's process: They found that a slower roasting process at a lower temperature (45 minutes at 242 degrees Fahrenheit) resulted in beans with more antioxidant activity than those roasted at a typical temperature and time (10-20 minutes at 248-266 degrees Fahrenheit).

Cocoa beans that were stored for the longest, at 10 days, and roasted at a lower temperature for a longer time contained the most polyphenols and antioxidant activity. "This aided the fermentation processes and enhanced antioxidant capacity of the beans, as well as the flavor," Afoakwa says. The researcher theorizes that pulp reconditioning probably enabled the sweet pulp that surrounds the beans to enter the pods before the fermentation process.

The news, which, for some, may sound too good to be true, was presented Tuesday March 24, at a meeting of the American Chemical Society. The research project received funding from the Belgian government under the VLIR TEAM Cocoa Project and requires deeper exploration before being marked conclusive, but Afoakwa has high hopes. He foresees the altering of chocolate's nutritiousness and flavor as beneficial for countries in Southeast Asia and Latin America, where cocoa beans yield less intense tasting chocolate with reduced antioxidant activity.

Chocolate Decreases Stroke Risk
A 2011 Swedish study found that women who ate more than 45 grams of chocolate a week had a 20 percent lower risk of stroke than women who treated themselves to fewer than 9 grams of the sweet stuff.
Chocolate Boosts Heart Health
Flickr:Chocolate Reviews
Regular chocolate eaters welcome a host of benefits for their hearts, including lower blood pressure, lower "bad" LDL cholesterol and a lower risk of heart disease. One of the reasons dark chocolate is especially heart-healthy is its inflammation-fighting properties, which reduce cardiovascular risk. Flickr photo by Lee McCoy
Chocolate Fills You Up
Flickr:Vegan Feast Catering
Because it's rich in fiber, dark chocolate can actually help keep you full, so you'll eat less, Dr. David Katz, founding director of Yale University's Prevention Research Center and HuffPost blogger told The Huffington Post. Regular chocolate eaters might do themselves a favor by treating themselves to a bite instead of snacking on "11 other things first" he said. Dark chocolate does the trick much better than milk, according to a small study from the University of Copenhagen, and may even reduce cravings for sweet, salty and fatty foods. Flickr photo by Vegan Feast Catering
Chocolate May Fight Diabetes
Flickr:The Integer Club
A small Italian study from 2005 found that regularly eating chocolate increases insulin sensitivity, thereby reducing risk for diabetes. Flickr photo by The Integer Club
Chocolate Protects Your Skin
Forget what you've heard about chocolate causing breakouts: Dark chocolate is actually good for your skin. The type of antioxidants called flavonoids found in dark chocolate offer some protection from UV damage from the sun. And no, that does not mean you can skip the sunscreen!
Chocolate Can Quiet Coughs
Can't stop coughing? An ingredient in chocolate called theobromine seems to reduce activity of the vagus nerve, the part of the brain that triggers hard-to-shake coughs. In late 2010, the BBC reported that scientists were investigating creating a drug containing theobromine to preplace cough syrups containing codeine, which can have risky side effects. Flickr photo by ryancboren
Chocolate Boosts Your Mood
There's no denying that indulging your sweet tooth every once in a while feels great. Enjoying food is part of enjoying life, points out HuffPost Healthy Living's wellness editor, Dr. Patricia Fitzgerald. Chocolate eaters also report feeling less stressed. Flickr photo by stevendepolo
Chocolate Improves Blood Flow
Flickr:David Berkowitz
Cocoa has anti-clotting, blood-thinning properties that work in a similar way to aspirin, Dr. Fitzgerald writes, which can improve blood flow and circulation. Flickr photo by David Berkowitz
Chocolate Improves Vision
Flickr:Robert Couse-Baker
Because of chocolate's ability to improve blood flow, in particular to the brain, researchers at the University of Reading hypothesized in a small 2011 study that chocolate may also increase blood flow to the retina, thereby giving vision a boost. Flickr photo by Robert Couse-Baker
Chocolate May Make You Smarter
That boost of blood flow to the brain created by cocoa's flavanols seems to make people feel more awake and alert, and, in a small British study, perform better on counting tasks.