Are there health benefits from chocolate? You might be asking. If you’re reading this article, chances are you are one in millions of people who enjoy the company of a good, delicious, chocolate bar, as a dessert or simply to warm you on a Saturday night-in in your pajamas, either way you have it, it gives you that sense of sweet joy and fulfillment that only chocolate could bring.
While a heart-shaped box of chocolates may seem like the opposite of healthy, experts say it’s less about the occasional small indulgence and more about making good everyday food choices.
As preventive cardiologist Dr. Suzanne of Lenox Hill Hospital puts it,
“When looking for a sweet snack, a square of dark chocolate might, in fact, be your healthiest choice!”
So let’s delve deeper into exactly why a little dark chocolate is more than just a tasty cure for that sweet-tooth cravings.
Most dark chocolate is high in flavonoids, particularly a subtype called flavanols associated with a lower risk of heart disease.
According to Cleveland Clinic, research has shown that flavanols consuming more dietary flavonoids have a very positive effect on heart health by helping lower blood pressure and improve blood flow to the heart as well as the brain. In addition to that, flavanols can also help make blood platelets less sticky and able to clot, reducing the risk of blood clots and stroke.
According to a study published in International Journal of Cardiology, subjects who consumed a daily dose of flavanoid-rich dark chocolate for two weeks showed significant improvement with heart circulation in healthy adults, while on the other hand, those who were given only white chocolate with zero flavonoids showed no positive health effects.
Another study published in 2015 concluded that
“Cumulative evidence of 20,000 people over the course of 11 years suggests that higher chocolate intake is associated with a lower risk of future cardiovascular events.”
Besides posing great benefits for cardiovascular protection, dark chocolates also have tons of other health benefits, some of which are:
Protection from disease-causing free radicals (due to its high antioxidant content)
Potential cancer prevention
Good for overall cholesterol profile
Improve cognitive function
Lowers blood pressure
Decreased fasting blood sugar
Potential vision booster
Not bad at all for a dessert that has a bad reputation and known for causing weight gain among chocolate lovers (especially on the month of February - if you know what I mean).
Before you grab a chocolate candy bar, it’s important to first understand that not all forms of chocolate contain high levels of flavanols.
Cocoa comes from flavanols and naturally has a very distinctive strong, pungent taste. When cocoa is processed into your favorite chocolate products, it goes through several steps to reduce that taste. And the catch is that the more chocolate is processed (through things like fermentation, alkalizing, roasting, etc.), the more flavanols are lost.
Although it was once believed that dark chocolate contained the highest levels of flavanols, recent research indicates that, depending on how the dark chocolate was processed, this may not be true. But for now, your best choices are likely dark chocolate over milk chocolate (especially ones that are loaded with other fats and sugars).
A standard bar of dark chocolate with 70% - 85% cocoa contains about 600 calories and 24 grams of sugar, according to the US Dept of Agriculture’s nutrient database. On the other hand, milk chocolate contains roughly the same number of calories but twice the sugar.
It is recommended to buy a minimally processed dark chocolate with cocoa content of at least 70% as it contains the most powerful antioxidants and least amount of sugar.
Watch out also for those extra ingredients that can add lots of extra fat and calories.
Currently, there isn’t any established serving size of chocolate to help you reap the cardiovascular benefits it has to offer, as more research is needed in this area.
However, you do not need to feel guilty for enjoying a small piece of dark chocolate once in a while.
So for now, you can enjoy moderate portions of chocolate eg. 7 grams ( 0.25 ounce) a few times per week, alongside with other flavonoid-rich foods like apples, red wine, green tea, and cranberries.
Just remember, moderation is key.
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www.heart.org. (2019). Are there health benefits from chocolate?. [online] Available at: https://www.heart.org/en/news/2019/02/12/are-there-health-benefits-from-chocolate [Accessed 9 Apr. 2019].
Cleveland Clinic. (2019). Chocolates & Heart Health | Cleveland Clinic. [online] Available at: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/16774-heart-healthy-benefits-of-chocolate [Accessed 9 Apr. 2019].
Price, A. (2019). Benefits of Dark Chocolate You Won't Believe - Dr. Axe. [online] Dr. Axe. Available at: https://draxe.com/benefits-of-dark-chocolate/ [Accessed 9 Apr. 2019].
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