Who would have thought the seeds of an evergreen tree native to the tropical regions of
Central and South America could produce a food so luscious, so delicious, and yet surprisingly
good for us? This tree, known by its scientific name of Theobroma cacao, “theos” meaning
“god” and “broma” meaning “food,” literally means “food of the gods” and what a perfect way
to describe it’s product – chocolate.
In the past, chocolate often had a tainted reputation. Described as “sinfully delicious” this
“decadent” food item was associated with causing obesity, acne, migraines, dental cavities and
certain “death by chocolate.” Thankfully, scientific research resurrected its reputation and we
can enjoy the bountiful health benefits it has to offer. In honor of American Heart Month and
Valentine’s Day, let us count the ways why it’s okay to love chocolate – in moderation.
The cacao plant chocolate comes from is exceedingly rich in flavonoids, a type of
plant-based antioxidant. Not just any chocolate will do though. The darker the
chocolate, the higher percentage of cocoa content, meaning more cocoa solids and more
of the healthy flavonoids. Unsweetened cocoa powder has 88 to 96 percent cocoa solids,
dark chocolate contains 45 to 80 percent, milk chocolate has 5 to 7 percent, and white
chocolate does not contain any.
2. Vascular health
Because of the flavonoids chocolate contains, this helps to lower blood pressure, improve blood flow to the brain and heart, and make blood platelets less sticky to reduce clotting and risk of a stroke.
3. Lowers blood cholesterol
But wait, isn’t chocolate full of fat? Yes, chocolate does contain fat, but it’s in the form of stearic acid and oleic acid. Stearic acid is a saturated fat but has a neutral effect on cholesterol and does not raise blood cholesterol like other forms of saturated fats. Oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat, does not raise cholesterol and may even help lower it.
4. Prevents memory decline
Researchers at Harvard Medical School suggest drinking two cups of hot chocolate a day may help preserve memory by improving blood flow to the brain.
5. Protection against type 2 diabetes
A study in The Journal of Nutrition suggested consuming high levels of flavonoids found in dark chocolate and also in tea, berries, and wine may possibly prevent developing type 2 diabetes. The study looked 1,997 women between the ages of 18 to 76 and found that those who had higher intakes of food like dark chocolate rich in flavonoids, had reduced insulin resistance and improved glucose regulation.
Take home message
Even though chocolate has gained its respectability back in recent years, don’t make a mad
dash to the candy aisle just yet. The addition of sugar and fat to chocolate make it palatable
and sweet but those extra calories add up quickly. Too much of a good thing may end
up tipping the scales resulting in weight gain.
So, if you love chocolate and want to reap the benefits it can provide, what’s the best way to
choose your chocolate wisely? Experts recommend one ounce of dark chocolate with at least a
70 percent cocoa content daily. One ounce may sound small but even dark chocolate is high in
calories and fat. To make it last longer, take your time enjoying it. Savor the rich, full-bodied
flavor dark chocolate has to offer.
This Valentine’s Day, don’t choose just any box of chocolates to give to your sweetheart. Show how much you really love them by buying heart healthy dark chocolate. Charles Schulz,
creator of Charlie Brown, got it right when he once said, “All you need is love. But a little
chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”