Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

Healthy Chocolate – Fact or Fad?

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Onzas de chocolate

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Is the hype over the health benefits of chocolate trick or treat?  Chocolate lovers have gushed over the research studies that have linked certain forms to improved heart health, lower blood pressure, and enhanced glucose tolerance.  But wait a minute – it’s only certain forms of chocolate.  Dark chocolate with a cocoa content of at least 70% has been shown in moderation to be the most beneficial.

But warnings abound – this is certainly one of those foods that most nutrition people recommend in moderation.  Just as red wine has been touted to be heart healthy, moderation is the key – and in that case, it’s one-two drinks a day at most.  With chocolate, one needs to consider the fat and the calories, for sure.

The news just keeps getting sweeter for chocolate lovers.

A fairly recent study from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) showed that eating about 30 calories a day of dark chocolate was associated with lowering of blood pressure without weight gain.

A new review of 10 previous studies of chocolate consumption and cholesterol reports that the cocoa found in dark chocolate is linked to significant reductions in total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Researchers combined studies totaling 320 participants, with half the trials testing more than 500 mg of the flavanoid that seems to give cocoa its healthy effects and half less than 500 mg. Overall, consumption of dark chocolate was linked to average reductions of 6.23 mg/dL in total cholesterol and 5.9 mg/dL in LDL. There was no apparent effect on healthy HDL cholesterol or triglycerides. Eating dark chocolate seemed more beneficial than drinking cocoa-containing beverages. Researchers noted that the cholesterol benefits were observed despite the saturated fat and calories contained in chocolate along with those healthy flavanoids. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition

Cocoa is a good source of magnesium and plant sterols, but the key ingredient for its heart benefits appear to be what is known as its proanthocyanidin (a flavonoid) content. This powerful antioxidant compound is also found in blueberries, cranberries, and tea.

Do not rely on chocolate or red wine alone. It’s best to eat a variety of foods such as fruits and vegetables that also contain many other powerful antioxidants.  But for die-hard chocolate lovers, a daily square of dark chocolate can be beneficial.  Just don’t expect your doctor to write you a prescription for Godiva.

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