(Dark) Chocolate – Love at First Bite

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.

1.    Flavonoids 

          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.”