Chocolate and Your Health
Chocolate is believed to protect the cardiovascular system. The health benefits of chocolate may come from the antioxidant flavonoids. Chocolate comes from the cacao plant, which is rich in flavanols, a type of flavonoid phytochemical. (Other foods rich in flavanols include tea, cranberries, and red wine.)
Flavonoids help protect plants from environmental toxins and help repair damage. When we eat foods rich in flavonoids, it appears that we also benefit from this "antioxidant" power. The more nonfat cocoa solids a chocolate product contains, the more antioxidants it tends to contribute.
The fat in chocolate comes from cocoa butter and is made up of oleic acid (a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat), stearic and palmitic acids. Stearic and palmitic acids are saturated fats. Saturated fats are linked to increases in LDL cholesterol and the risk of heart disease. Research shows stearic acid appears to have a neutral effect on cholesterol. Although palmitic acid does affect cholesterol levels, it only makes up one-third of the fat calories in chocolate. This does not mean you can eat all the dark chocolate you’d like.
Be careful about the type of dark chocolate you choose. Chewy caramel and nut covered dark chocolate is not a heart-healthy food option. Check extra ingredients that can add lots of extra fat and calories. If the chocolate contains fat ingredients other than cocoa butter, it might have more harmful saturated fats and trans fats, rather than stearic acid.
There is currently no established serving size of chocolate to help you reap the cardiovascular benefits. You can enjoy a moderate portion of chocolate, about 1 ounce a few times per week.
More research is needed, but recent studies suggest the following possible health benefits of dark chocolate and cocoa.
1. Reduce the Risk of Heart Attack.
2. Decrease Blood Pressure and Increase Insulin Sensitivity
3. Improve Arterial Blood Flow
4. Help People with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
The health benefits of chocolate may vanish if you are adding calories above and beyond your regular intake. This could mean you're adding more pounds along with the flavonoids.
1. Cleveland Clinic, Heart Health Benefits of Chocolate
2. WebMD, Health by Chocolate