Let’s be honest, most of us love chocolate! Women crave it, men hoard it, and in Aztec times, kings were the first to have reportedly consumed it. Living to be a ripe old age of 122, the oldest woman who ever lived, Jeanne Calment, was even reported to eat two pounds of chocolate weekly! We know why we love it, but here are some reasons why we should not give it up completely. Chocolate really is good for our hearts!
Cocoa has been used throughout history as a folk medicine. The truth is pure cocoa is loaded with significant health benefits. According to a new study by Harvard researchers, cocoa consumption has been shown to be associated with decreased blood pressure, enhanced blood vessel health, and improvement in cholesterol levels.
Eric L. Ding, PhD, of Harvard Medical School says the health benefits come from polyphenolic flavonoids in cocoa that have the potential to prevent heart disease. Flavonoids are antioxidants that are found most often in fruits and veggies, wine, tea, and coffee.
Who says chocolate is bad for you?
In the past ten years chocolates reputation has undergone a serious overhaul. What was formerly a fattening indulgence can now be considered a health food. Many studies like this one have placed cocoa and dark chocolate in the spotlight for their cardiovascular benefits. These benefits include: cholesterol level improvements, ability to help lower blood pressure, aid in blood clotting, coronary artery function, and also help with insulin sensitivity. The main reason for this is the cocoa bean is rich in flavonoids. Flavonoids are naturally occurring antioxidants found in certain fruits and vegetables, tea, and red wine.
In a randomized trial encompassing males and females at high risk for cardiovascular disease, Spanish scientists gave half the participants 1.4 ounces of unsweetened cocoa powder in 16 ounces of skim milk every day, and half plain skim milk. After 30 days, the participants that were given cocoa levels of adhesion molecules were considerably lower. Adhesion molecules are proteins causing substances to stick to the walls of the arteries. They are associated to heart disease because they contribute to the formation of atherosclerotic plaques that can trigger a stroke or heart attack. Cocoa was also shown to increase “good” cholesterol levels.
Cocoas benefits go all the way back to the ancient Mayan days. Mayans combined ground roasted cocoa beans with different spices to make a revitalizing, but bitter, drink. Today, cocoa is most often processed with fat, sugar, and sometimes milk to hide the bitterness. The issue this causes is it lowers flavonoid content while raising the calorie contents. Not all chocolate is created equal.
Keep these things in mind:
- Chocolate is made from nonfat cocoa solids combined with cocoa butter. If the nonfat cocoa solid content is higher, the flavonoid content will be high as well.
- To give chocolate a melt in your mouth quality, cocoa butter is combined with cocoa solids in varying amounts in chocolate products. It’s the key ingredient in white chocolate. Most of the fat in cocoa butter is stearic and oleic acids, which do not raise cholesterol. Gram for gram, however, fat of any kind packs twice as many calories as protein and carbs. So read labels and always keep an eye on calories.
- While the cocoa news is certainly promising, research hasn’t yet identified the optimal dose for cardiovascular benefits. For now it’s best to limit ourselves to a few small squares of chocolate a day, the darker the better, and make sure the first ingredient listed is cocoa or chocolate, not sugar.
We aren’t saying if you’ve sworn off chocolate to begin eating it. Were simply saying it’s not as “sinful” as we once thought. It’s even ok to add to your blueprint for health. If you do decide to make the change, we suggest cutting calories elsewhere to keep extra weight off.