It’s a dream to be told that eating chocolate is healthy, and according to some studies, it is! More research is proving that chocolate provides healthful protection against heart disease.
The cocoa beans in chocolate contain natural flavonoids that are also found in teas, and some fruits and vegetables. These flavonoids are anti-inflammatory, cancer fighting anti-oxidants and have been associated with reducing the risk factors for heart disease by preventing cellular damage for instance. Additionally, flavanols improve blood pressure readings and vascular function and help prevent the formation of plaques and ruptures. Dark chocolate may also decrease low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels to provide cardiovascular benefits.
A study conducted under Dirk Taubert [MD, PhD] and colleagues, at the University of Cologne in Germany, showed that dark chocolate consumed without milk provides more levels of epicatechin, a particularly healthy compound found in chocolate, than consuming dark chocolate with milk. Another study, conducted under Taubert, revealed that participants with mild blood pressure had a significant drop (by an average of 5 points for systolic and an average of 2 points for diastolic blood pressure) after eating 100g of dark chocolate daily for two weeks, whereas those who ate white chocolate gained no benefits.
One study, conducted by Ian A. Macdonald [PhD], from the University of Nottingham Medical School in the United Kingdom, has shown that a diet high in flavanols may improve the blood flow to the brain, thus improving brain function and could be a potential treatment of vascular problems within the brain.
Generally, to gain health benefits, choose chocolate that contains at least 65% cocoa. Milk chocolate usually contains 15 to 25% cocoa and is lower in flavonoids. Most dark chocolates are made up of 50 to 80-plus percent cocoa.
As balance is key to good health, limit the amount of chocolate you eat to no more than 100 grams a day, which is the amount some studies show that provide heart health benefits. You may want to include this amount only if you are living an active lifestyle because it may provide up to 530kcals, or simply reduce it to just one square a day if you’re not very active. You can also obtain brain-boosting flavanols from green tea and black tea, apples, apricots, raspberries, purple grapes and other foods. These sources are much lower in calories and help you manage your weight better. In the follow-up, more long term studies need to be conducted to confirm the health benefits of chocolate.
Nada Jawahery is the Registered Dietician at Royal Bahrain Hospital and is a member of, and licensed by, the American Dietetics Association. For more information call 17246832 or email: Nada.Jawahery@royalbhrn.com