Monday, February 13, 2012

The Truth About Chocolate

I would guess most of you have heard that chocolate is good for you, right? That all this time we have worried about it being too fattening and sugary, we should have just been eating it? Well…that isn’t 100% true.

Truth: Scientists reported preliminary evidence recently that cocoa may keep high blood pressure down, your blood flowing and your heart healthy.


Truth: The reasoning behind chocolate having health benefits is that the cocoa bean is rich in a class of plant nutrients called flavonoids.

Flavanols are the main type of flavonoid found in cocoa and chocolate. Flavanols act as antioxidants, which protect the body from aging caused by free radicals which can cause damage that leads to heart disease. Dark chocolate contains a large number of antioxidants (nearly 8 times the number found in strawberries). In addition to having antioxidant qualities, research shows that flavanols have other potential influences on vascular health, such as lowering blood pressure, improving blood flow to the brain and heart, and making blood platelets less sticky and able to clot.  A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that dark chocolate helps to lower blood pressure.


The problem? Not all chocolate is equal. A lot of chocolate doesn’t have high levels of flavanols. If you’ve ever tasted cocoa straight, it has a pretty strong, bitter taste. A taste most people don’t enjoy chomping down on. In order to fix that, most companies process and add sugar and other things to make it so you DO chomp down on it.

The other day I was watching the news and they had a guy from a local chocolate shop talking about their store. They sell high end chocolates (that sounds weird) and he actually said most people aren’t “chocolate lovers” but just plain old “sugar lovers” and they realize that when they go into their shop and taste real chocolate. They don’t like the cocoa, just the sugar and milk and fat added to the cocoa. Interesting, eh?


Typically, dark chocolate has the highest levels of flavanols.

Obviously, that doesn’t mean you should go eat all the dark chocolate you want. First, be careful about the type of dark chocolate you choose: chewy caramel-marshmallow-nut-covered dark chocolate is by no means a heart-healthy food option. Watch out for those extra ingredients that can add lots of extra fat and calories. Second, there is currently no established serving size of chocolate to help you reap the cardiovascular benefits it may offer, and more research is needed in this area. However, we do know that you no longer need to feel guilty if you enjoy a small piece of dark chocolate once in a while.


Hope you have a wonderful Valentine’s Day and enjoy a little chocolate with someone you love!

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