My daily treat is dark chocolate. Ok, so I never met a chocolate I don’t like. What about you? What’s your favorite? I’m always excited to hear nutrition news that reports on chocolate’s potential health benefits. A recent study published in the British Medical Journal was a systematic review of seven studies on chocolate specifically looking at the association between chocolate consumption and the risk of developing cardiometabolic disorders (think heart disease and stroke, diabetes and metabolic syndrome).
By the way, these studies did not differentiate between dark and milk chocolate. The results found that a higher level of chocolate consumption was associated with about a one third reduction in the risk for cardiovascular disease and a 29% reduction in stroke risk as compared to a lower chocolate intake.
What does this mean? Eating chocolate in reasonable amounts does not seem to be problematic but may in fact be helpful in reducing overall risk. What’s in the chocolate that has this effect? Or is it chocolate in combination with a healthy diet?
Another study in Chemistry Central Journal found that chocolate is a rich source of antioxidants (polyphenols and flavanols), just like wine, grape juice and most fruit. Do these antioxidants in chocolate, wine and fruit have a specific beneficial action in the human body versus the plant itself? This is the question that many researchers want to the answer to.
Research indicates that the flavanols (antioxidants) in cocoa may have heart health benefits that include improved blood flow, reduced blood pressure and lowered production of the lousy or LDL cholesterol. In addition to the flavanols found in cocoa, dark chocolate also contains other nutrients including iron, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus and fiber.
The caveat here is that the nutritional profile can be significantly hindered by the addition of less healthy ingredients such as too much sugar (most all chocolate will have some sugar to counteract the bitter pure cocoa flavor), trans fat or hydrogenated fat, butter oil, coconut or palm oil, or even milk fat.
So it’s up to you to be the label sleuth and look at the Nutrition Facts label and also closely read the ingredient list. The longer the ingredient list, the more likely it is that added items will take away from the cocoa’s potential health benefits.
Dark chocolate can be enjoyed without the guilt as long as you don’t forget that chocolate contain fat and calories so you must be prepared to burn off the calories so they don’t end up on your backside.
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