A study published in International Journal of Cardiology had subjects either consume a daily dose of flavonoid-rich dark chocolate or non-flavonoid white chocolate for two weeks. The results showed that flavonoid-rich dark chocolate intake significantly improved heart circulation in healthy adults. On the other hand, white chocolate with zero flavonoids to brag about had no positive health effects on the subjects. (6)
Currently, there are no government guidelines for consumers on how many antioxidants to consume and what kind of antioxidants to consume in their daily diet, as is the case with vitamins and minerals. A major barrier to such guidelines is a lack of consensus among nutrition researchers on uniform antioxidant measurements. Scientists will soon attempt to develop such a consensus at the First International Congress on Antioxidant Methods, held June 16-18 at the Caribe Royale Hotel and Conference Center in Orlando, Fla., with the ultimate goal of developing better nutritional data for consumers. ACS is the principal sponsor of the meeting.
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.
The aim of the present study was to screen foods to identify total antioxidant capacity of fruits, vegetables, beverages, spices and herbs in addition to common everyday foods. In nutritional epidemiologic and intervention studies, the Antioxidant Food Database may be utilized to identify and rank diets and subjects with regard to antioxidant intake and as a tool in planning dietary antioxidant interventions. The database will be available online at the University of Oslo's web site.
Choosing the best food sources of antioxidants can go a long way in enhancing your health and fighting disease. A class of compounds found in a wide range of foods (especially plant-derived foods), antioxidants help protect against the damaging effects of free radicals. It's thought that increasing your intake of the best food sources of antioxidants can help fend off a host of major health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, and some forms of cancer.
A recent study by Swedish researchers found that women who ate high amounts of chocolate — about two candy bars per week — had a 20 percent lower risk of stroke. In a similar study, British researchers also found that people who ate more chocolate were 30 percent less likely to have a stroke. However, researchers added that more study is needed to determine the exact amount and types of flavonoid-rich chocolates that would be most help lessen stroke risk.
Several assays have been used to assess the total antioxidant content of foods, e.g. the 6-hydroxy-2,5,7,8-tetramethylchroman-2-carboxylic acid (Trolox) equivalent antioxidant capacity (TEAC) assay , the ferric-reducing ability of plasma (FRAP)  and the oxygen radical absorbance capacity assay (ORAC) assay . Based on careful considerations (see Blomhoff 2005 and Halvorsen et al 2002 for discussion [15,16]) we chose to use a modified version of the FRAP assay by Benzie and Strain  for total antioxidant analysis . Most importantly, the modified FRAP assay is a simple, fast and inexpensive assay with little selectivity. Assay conditions, such as extraction solvents, were optimized regarding detection of both lipophilic and hydrophilic antioxidants . The FRAP assay directly measures antioxidants with a reduction potential below the reduction potential of the Fe3+/Fe2+ couple [16,17]. Thus, the FRAP assay does not measure glutathione. Most other assays have higher reduction potentials and measures glutathione and other thiols . This may be an advantage when using the FRAP assay, because glutathione is found in high concentrations in foods but it is degraded in the intestine and poorly absorbed by humans . A disadvantage of the FRAP assay is its inability to detect other small molecular weight thiols and sulfur containing molecules of e.g. garlic. Most assays for assessing total antioxidant capacity generally result in similar ranking of foods [20-23]. We have now performed a systematic measurement of the total antioxidant content of more than 3100 foods. This novel Antioxidant Food Table enables us to calculate total antioxidant content of complex diets, identify and rank potentially good sources of antioxidants, and provide the research community with comparable data on the relative antioxidant capacity of a wide range of foods.
- Cut one source of sugar each week. If the thought of drastically reducing your sugar intake makes you nervous, take a gradual approach. Start cutting sugary treats a little at a time. Cut dessert to one or two days a week. Stop adding sugar to your coffee. Skip the weekly office donut tray. This gives you a chance to adjust to less sugar over time.
If you want to increase your intake of high antioxidant foods changing your diet is the way to go. Begin by cutting down on processed foods—which are often devoid of antioxidants and promote free radical formation—and replacing them with fresh vegetables, fruits, and minimally processed grains. If you love bread, switch to whole grain; if you have a sweet tooth, grab a few pieces of dried apples or apricots, or a couple of squares of dark chocolate. And, of course, season your cooking with herbs or spices.
A study conducted at the University of Oslo in Norway compiled 3,100 food items using the FRAP assay method of measurement, which extracts the antioxidant value of foods and beverages with the scale of millimoles/100 grams. Millimoles are 1/1000 of a mole (a unit of measurement that allows the conversion between atoms/molecules and grams). Using this measurement, antioxidant values are compared on a scale. The FRAP assay is said to be an inexpensive and easy way to measure antioxidant content.
An influx of sugar into the bloodstream upsets the body's blood-sugar balance, triggering the release of insulin, which the body uses to keep blood-sugar at a constant and safe level. Insulin also promotes the storage of fat, so that when you eat sweets high in sugar, you're making way for rapid weight gain and elevated triglyceride levels, both of which have been linked to cardiovascular disease. Complex carbohydrates tend to be absorbed more slowly, lessening the impact on blood-sugar levels.
Candy as a diabetes foe? Sure enough. In a small Italian study, participants who ate a candy bar's worth of dark chocolate once a day for 15 days saw their potential for insulin resistance drop by nearly half. "Flavonoids increase nitric oxide production," says lead researcher Claudio Ferri, M.D., a professor at the University of L'Aquila in Italy. "And that helps control insulin sensitivity."
Along with antioxidant foods, certain herbs, spices and essential oils derived from nutrient-dense plants are extremely high in healing antioxidant compounds. Here is another list of the herbs you can try adding to your diet for increased protection against disease. Many of these herbs/spices are also available in concentrated essential oil form. Look for 100 percent pure (therapeutic grade) oils, which are highest in antioxidants.
When you eat excess sugar, the extra insulin in your bloodstream can affect your arteries, part of your body’s circulatory system. It causes their walls to grow faster than normal and get tense, which adds stress to your heart and damages it over time. This can lead to heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes. Research also suggests that eating less sugar can help lower blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease. Plus, people who eat a lot of added sugar (where at least 25% of their calories comes from added sugar) are twice as likely to die of heart disease as those whose diets include less than 10% of total calories from added sugar.
With this study we present a comprehensive survey of the total antioxidant capacity in foods. Earlier small-scale studies from other laboratories have included from a few up to a few hundred samples [20-22,29-31], and in 2007 the U.S. Department of Agriculture presented the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) of Selected Foods report including 277 food samples . These studies have been done using different antioxidant assays for measuring antioxidant capacity making it difficult to compare whole lists of foods, products and product categories. Still, a food that has a high total antioxidant capacity using one antioxidant assay will most likely also be high using another assay [20-22]. Consequently, the exact value will be different but the ranking of the products will be mainly the same whichever assay is used. In the present extensive study, the same validated method has been used on all samples, resulting in comparable measures, thus enabling us to present a complete picture of the relative antioxidant potential of the samples.
Obviously, not all chocolate is created equal. To get the most benefits associated with dark chocolate, you want to steer clear of any of the candy bar varieties (even if they are “gluten-free” or “Paleo”) and be sure to choose a bar that contains at least a 75 percent cacao content. This will ensure there are minimal added sugars, so you get the bittersweet goodness without the damaging effects of sugar.
The American Heart Association, along with the Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic, recommend getting antioxidants from whole foods and a wide variety of foods. While it’s always ideal, and usually more beneficial, to get antioxidants or other nutrients directly from real food sources, certain types may also be helpful when consumed in supplement form.
Such observational studies don't prove that chocolate is responsible for these benefits. However, the consistent and repeated positive results in studies done on cocoa indicate that chocolate does have a positive effect on the cardiovascular system. Chocolate has had such a profound effect on so many systems in the human body some authorities are unsure whether to call it a food or a drug.
What do free radicals do exactly, and why are they so destructive? The body uses antioxidants to prevent itself from the damage caused by oxygen. Electrons exist in pairs; free radicals are missing an electron. This is their weapon of sorts. They “react” with just about anything they come into contact with, robbing cells and compounds of one of their electrons. This makes the affected cell or compound unable to function and turns some cells into “electron-seeking muggers,” leading to a chain reaction in the body and the proliferation of free radicals. Free radicals then damage DNA, cellular membranes and enzymes.
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.
Promotes weight loss – Researchers from the University of Copenhagen found that dark chocolate is far more filling, offering more of a feeling of satiety than its lighter-colored sibling. That is, dark chocolate lessens cravings for sweet, salty, and fatty foods. So if indulging in a bit of healthy dark chocolate should not only make it easy for you to stick to the small portion recommended for optimal health, but it should make it easier for you to stick to your diet in general.
As demonstrated in the present study, the variation in the antioxidant values of otherwise comparable products is large. Like the content of any food component, antioxidant values will differ for a wide array of reasons, such as growing conditions, seasonal changes and genetically different cultivars [46,58], storage conditions [59-61] and differences in manufacturing procedures and processing [62-64]. Differences in unprocessed and processed plant food samples are also seen in our study where processed berry products like jam and syrup have approximately half the antioxidant capacity of fresh berries. On the other hand, processing may also enhance a foods potential as a good antioxidant source by increasing the amount of antioxidants released from the food matrix which otherwise would be less or not at all available for absorption . Processing of tomato is one such example where lycopene from heat-processed tomato sauce is more bioavailable than unprocessed tomato . The large variations in antioxidant capacity observed in the present study emphasize the importance of using a comprehensive antioxidant database combined with a detailed system for food registration in clinical and epidemiological studies.
Sugar addiction is a real and growing concern for a large majority of the world’s population. But how exactly does this happen? The Huffington Post explains that when a person consumes sugar, the tongue’s taste buds become activated and send signals to the brain, “lighting up reward pathways and causing a surge of feel-good hormones, like dopamine, to be released.”
But before you run out and stock up on chocolate bars, it’s important to note that you’d have to eat about seven bars a day to ingest the 138 milligrams of epicatechin given to the study participants. A healthy portion of dark chocolate is about 1.5 ounces. However, the results do suggest an important link between the compound and memory-loss. Certain supplements contain healthy doses of epicatechin, and the antioxidant can also be found naturally in apples, blackberries, and green tea.
One of my favorite benefits of dark chocolate is its free radical fighting ability. Free radicals are unbalanced compounds created by cellular processes in the body, especially those that fight against environmental toxins we’re exposed to on a daily basis. Antioxidants are the compounds that are believed to neutralize free radicals and protect the body from their damage.
When it comes to your bone health, yet again salt is the white crystal in shining armor. When we cut our salt intake, to the level that every dietary guideline tells us to, this can cause calcium and magnesium depletion from the body. When our intake of salt goes down, the body seems to pull sodium as well as calcium and magnesium from the bone, likely increasing the risk of osteoporosis. Low salt diets also increase the loss of magnesium in sweat—the body pushing out more magnesium instead of sodium in order to conserve low sodium reserves. All of this can take its toll on the health of our bones. In fact, consuming more salt may protect your bones, whereas consuming a diet high in sugar is clearly harmful. The next time you decide to reach for the sugar bowl, think twice, grabbing the salt shaker instead just may end up saving your life.
To avoid overindulging in dark chocolate yet obtain the benefits of dark chocolate, it’s a smart idea to eat a little piece by itself after a solid meal or include it in a recipe. If you’re sensitive to caffeine or looking to avoid caffeine entirely, it’s important to know that there are measurable amounts of caffeine in dark chocolate. Caffeine side effects can include nervousness, increased urination, sleeplessness and a rapid heartbeat, all reasons to avoid caffeine overdose.
Back when food was way scarcer, our ancient ancestors needed to take every advantage they had to consume high calorie foods. So the human brain evolved to perceive sugar—and fat—as very rewarding, says Schwartz. Today, our brains are still wired for feast or famine, even though you can buy thousands of calories of food for a couple bucks at the local convenience store.
Most of the spices and herbs analyzed have particularly high antioxidant contents. Although spices and herbs contribute little weight on the dinner plate, they may still be important contributors to our antioxidant intake, especially in dietary cultures where spices and herbs are used regularly. We interpret the elevated concentration of antioxidants observed in several dried herbs compared to fresh samples, as a normal consequence of the drying process leaving most of the antioxidants intact in the dried end product. This tendency is also seen in some fruits and their dried counterparts. Thus, dried herbs and fruit are potentially excellent sources of antioxidants.
For a report published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry in 2004, scientists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) performed what is considered to be the most comprehensive analysis of the antioxidant content of commonly consumed foods. The USDA scientists ranked these foods according to their total antioxidant capacity, which is a measure of the antioxidants' ability to neutralize free radicals.
Evidence that dark chocolate may play a role in cancer prevention is limited but growing. Some preliminary studies on three continents — Europe, Asia, and North America — have shown that people who eat many flavonoids or a lot of antioxidant-rich chocolate develop fewer cancers than those who don’t consume them. Of the many flavonoids in chocolate, two in particular, epicatechin and quercetin, are believed to be responsible for the cancer-fighting properties.
The samples were classified into 24 different categories covering products from the plant kingdom, products from the animal kingdom and mixed food products. Information about sample processing (raw, cooked, dried etc), if any, was included, along with all sample specifications, i.e. product name, brand name, where the product/sample was procured and country of origin. The product information in the database was collected from the packing of the product, from supplier or purchaser. When this information was not available or the samples were handpicked, only country of origin is presented. Each sample is assigned to only one category. The classification was done according to information from the supplier or purchaser, or according to common traditional use of the food. Some foods may therefore be categorized otherwise in other food cultures. For products in the categories "Herbal/traditional plant medicine" and "Vitamin and dietary Supplements" some products may rightfully be classified as both an herbal medicine and a supplement, but are still assigned to only one category. All berries, fruits, and vegetables were fresh samples unless otherwise noted in the database. The Antioxidant Food Table contains 3139 samples. About 1300 of these samples have been published before [16,17,28] but for comparison and completeness we have included them in the present publication. All individual samples previously published are identified by a comment in the Antioxidant Food Table. The categories and products in the database are presented in alphabetic order. Information about brand names and product trademarks does not imply endorsement by the authors, and are reported as descriptive information for research applications only. The Antioxidant Food Table will in the future be available online as a searchable database. In addition to the products mentioned in this paper, other foods will in the future be analyzed and incorporated into the online version, which will be posted on the University of Oslo's web site.