Is it true chocolate is good for your heart health? Tell me more!
Recent evidence suggests that chocolate - especially dark chocolate - is rich in substances that may actually help fend off heart disease. These substances are known as flavonoids and are not limited to chocolate; flavonoids are also present in onions, grapes, red wine and tea, among other plant-derived foods. It appears that flavonoids have powerful antioxidant effects.
A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition this past fall compared a traditional American diet to the same diet rich in flavonoids from chocolate (consuming a daily cocoa powder beverage and dark chocolate). What they found was that the group supplemented with the chocolate products had modest reductions in the oxidation of the "bad" cholesterol, LDL compared to the control diet. This means the LDL-cholesterol was less apt to form a plaque on the arterial wall. Additional preliminary research on chocolate shows it can also favorably affect blood clotting and the relaxation of blood vessels.
Will any chocolate do? Unfortunately no. Many chocolate products, such as cocoa powder and chocolate syrup, are typically processed with alkali, removing most of these beneficial flavonoids in the process. And milk chocolate has fewer of these beneficial chemicals than does dark chocolate.
So what are you to do? Until further research is conducted, focus on foods proven to help enhance heart health and prevent disease - fruits, vegetables and whole grains for example. But, allow yourself to enjoy a small piece of dark chocolate or chocolate product once in awhile. Many manufacturers make great bite-sized pieces of dark chocolate that can help fulfill that chocolate craving. Nonfat chocolate puddings or hot chocolate mixes are another great option. Remember, most chocolate products (candy bars, confections, cocoa powder, chocolate syrups) are traditionally high in calories and total fat, so incorporate these foods into your diet with discretion.
One day we may find we can "have our cake and eat it too". Until then, moderation is still key. Keep your eyes open for more information on this very exciting topic (See The Heart-Health Benefits of Chocolate Unveiled) .