The Compounds in Chocolate Boost Heart Health
A huge study and meta-analysis has sought to find a link between Chocolate consumption and cardiometabolic disorders such as coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
Along with those disorders come related problems like hypertension, elevated fasting glucose and triglycerides, and high cholesterol, abdominal obesity.4 But rather than negative effects, scientists found that Chocolate, specifically the dark unprocessed raw cacao kinds actually reduced the risk of these disorders.
The highest levels of Chocolate consumption were associated with a 37% reduction in cardiovascular disease and a 29% reduction in stroke compared with the lowest levels. Other research has shown that the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds in Chocolate may lower your risk of heart attack and stroke considerably.
Small amounts of dark Chocolate may cut our risk of heart attack because, like aspirin, Chocolate has a biochemical effect that reduces the clumping of platelets, which cause blood to clot. Platelet clumping can be fatal if a clot forms and blocks a blood vessel, causing a heart attack.
Specially formulated raw cocoa powder has the potential to prevent cardiovascular disease in diabetics. When diabetic patients were given a special high-flavonol cocoa drink for one month it brought their blood vessel function from severely impaired to normal. The improvement was as large as has been observed with exercise and many common diabetic medications.
Researchers discovered that a compound in dark Chocolate, called epicatechin (a flavonoid), may protect the brain after a stroke by increasing cellular signals that shield nerve cells from damage.
The antioxidant polyphenols in Chocolate are so valuable because they have the ability to stop free-radical-mediated oxidation, thereby directly interfering with one of the major preventable causes of chronic degenerative diseases.
Chocolate also contains other potent plant chemicals, including anandamide, named after the Sanscrit word for “Bliss,” which is a neurotransmitter in the brain that temporarily blocks feelings of pain and anxiety.
The caffeine and theobromine in Chocolate have been shown to produce higher levels of physical energy and mental alertness, and there are likely many more healthy chocolate compounds that have yet to be discovered.
As noted by ICCO: “Laboratory and human studies have indicated that cocoa flavonoids can inhibit the oxidation of the low-density lipoprotein (LDL-cholesterol) associated with heart disease. There is also emerging evidence … [that] suggests … cocoa and chocolate may … contribute to reducing the risk of certain types of cancer. This beneficial property originates from some of the other phytochemicals in cocoa.”
The Big Q: What is the healthiest type of Chocolate?
The Big A: The closer cocoa is to its natural raw state, the higher its nutritional value. If after health benefits, raw cacao nibs are what to look for.
Cacao refers to the plant, a small evergreen tree of the species Theobroma cacao, and its dried seeds, also known as cacao bean or cocoa bean, prior to processing.
Ideally, buy them whole and grind them yourself when using in recipes.
Alternatively, you can eat them whole, just like you would eat Chocolate chips. A healthy amount would probably be around 1/2 to 1 oz per day.
When selecting Chocolate, look for higher cacao and lower sugar content.
In general, the darker the Chocolate, the higher the cacao content. However, since cacao is bitter, the higher the percentage cacao, the more bitter it is. The polyphenols are what make the Chocolate bitter, so manufacturers often remove them. But, it is those polyphenols that are responsible for many of Chocolate’s health benefits.
To counteract the bitterness, most Chocolate is sweetened, so it’s a matter of balancing nutritional benefit with palatability.
For health benefits, choose Chocolate with a cacao at 72% or higher. Personally, I like 90% and eat about 1/2 oz daily at night.
Milk Chocolate is not a good choice as it contains both pasteurized milk and large quantities of sugar, which will significantly dampen its health benefits.
White Chocolate which is not true Chocolate, as it does not contain any cocoa powder or Chocolate solids, it is also high in sugar and contains none of the phytonutrients, not a good choice.
Due to the potential for lead and cadmium contamination, I suggest also contacting your Chocolate’s manufacturer to find out whether their products are regularly tested for those contaminants.
Eat healthy, Be healthy, Live lively
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