by Carolyn Thomas ♥ @HeartSisters
Good news, my heart sisters! Turns out that our favourite guilty pleasure might actually be good for our hearts.
alth Benefits of Chocolate
By Mark Stibich, Ph.D., About.com
Updated: January 24, 2009
About.com Health’s Disease and Condition content is reviewed by our Medical Review Board
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Why is Dark Chocolate Healthy?:
Chocolate is made from plants, which means it contains many of the health benefits of dark vegetables. These benefits are from flavonoids, which act as antioxidants. Antioxidants protect the body from aging caused by free radicals, which can cause damage that leads to heart disease. Dark chocolate contains a large number of antioxidants (nearly 8 times the number found in strawberries). Flavonoids also help relax blood pressure through the production of nitric oxide, and balance certain hormones in the body.
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Heart Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate:
Dark chocolate is good for your heart. A small bar of it everyday can help keep your heart and cardiovascular system running well. Two heart health benefits of dark chocolate are:
* Lower Blood Pressure: Studies have shown that consuming a small bar of dark chocolate everyday can reduce blood pressure in individuals with high blood pressure.
* Lower Cholesterol: Dark chocolate has also been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) by up to 10 percent.
Other Benefits of Dark Chocolate:
Chocolate also holds benefits apart from protecting your heart:
* it tastes good
* it stimulates endorphin production, which gives a feeling of pleasure
* it contains serotonin, which acts as an anti-depressant
* it contains theobromine, caffeine and other substances which are stimulants
Doesn’t Chocolate Have a lot of Fat?:
Here is some more good news — some of the fats in chocolate do not impact your cholesterol. The fats in chocolate are 1/3 oleic acid, 1/3 stearic acid and 1/3 palmitic acid:
* Oleic Acid is a healthy monounsaturated fat that is also found in olive oil.
* Stearic Acid is a saturated fat but one which research is shows has a neutral effect on cholesterol.
* Palmitic Acid is also a saturated fat, one which raises cholesterol and heart disease risk.
That means only 1/3 of the fat in dark chocolate is bad for you.
Chocolate Tip 1 – Balance the Calories:
This information doesn’t mean that you should eat a pound of chocolate a day. Chocolate is still a high-calorie, high-fat food. Most of the studies done used no more than 100 grams, or about 3.5 ounces, of dark chocolate a day to get the benefits.
One bar of dark chocolate has around 400 calories. If you eat half a bar of chocolate a day, you must balance those 200 calories by eating less of something else. Cut out other sweets or snacks and replace them with chocolate to keep your total calories the same.
Chocolate Tip 2 – Taste the Chocolate:
Chocolate is a complex food with over 300 compounds and chemicals in each bite. To really enjoy and appreciate chocolate, take the time to taste it. Professional chocolate tasters have developed a system for tasting chocolate that include assessing the appearance, smell, feel and taste of each piece.
Chocolate Tip 3 – Go for Dark Chocolate:
Dark chocolate has far more antioxidants than milk or white chocolate. These other two chocolates cannot make any health claims. Dark chocolate has 65 percent or higher cocoa content.
Chocolate Tip 4 – Skip the Nougat:
You should look for pure dark chocolate or dark chocolate with nuts, orange peel or other flavorings. Avoid anything with caramel, nougat or other fillings. These fillings are just adding sugar and fat which erase many of the benefits you get from eating the chocolate.
Chocolate Tip 5 – Avoid Milk:
It may taste good but some research shows that washing your chocolate down with a glass of milk could prevent the antioxidants being absorbed or used by your body.Great news, heart sisters! Turns out that our favourite guilty pleasure might actually be good for our hearts. Good news, heart sisters!
The Journal of the American Medical Association reported this winter that dark chocolate (whose cocoa polyphenols contain nearly eight times the number of antioxidants found in strawberries) can help lower blood pressure through the production of nitric oxide, and also lower LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol levels in the blood by up to 10% from heart-health flavonoids in dark chocolate.
As if that’s not good enough, here are four more benefits of dark chocolate:
- it tastes good
- it stimulates endorphin production, which gives you a feeling of pleasure
- it contains serotonin, which acts as an anti-depressant
- it contains theobromine, caffeine and other substances that are stimulants
More good news: the fats in dark chocolate are 1/3 oleic acid, 1/3 stearic acid and 1/3 palmitic acid. What does this mean?
- oleic acid is a healthy monounsaturated fat, also found in olive oil
- stearic acid is a saturated fat, but one that research shows has a neutral effect on cholesterol
- palmitic acid is also a saturated fat, and is the kind that raises cholesterol and heart disease risk
Thus only 1/3 of the fat in dark chocolate is bad for you.
Chocolate is still a high-calorie, high-sugar food. One bar of dark chocolate has around 400 calories. If you eat half a bar of chocolate per day, you must balance those 200 calories by eating less of something else to keep your total daily calories the same. Or go for a 60-minute brisk walk or do 40 minutes on a stationary bike to work off those 200 calories. I’m just sayin’ . . .
Milk or white chocolate, by comparison, cannot make any health claims. Look for pure dark chocolate with at least 65% or higher cocoa content, or dark chocolate with almonds, orange peel or other flavourings. Skip the caramel, nougat or other fillings, which just add more sugar and unhealthy fat. Some research shows that washing your dark chocolate down with a glass of milk could prevent the antioxidants being absorbed or used by your body.
And please be a good global citizen when you shop for dark chocolate. The Ivory Coast is the world’s largest cocoa producer, providing 75-90% of North American chocolate, largely by using child slaves and forced labour working up to 20 hour days in hazardous conditions, according to UNICEF investigators.
Do not buy Nestlé products – look for organic Fair Trade Certified dark chocolate only (Ivory Coast produces no organic cocoa beans) and learn more about child slavery from The Ethical Nag: Marketing Ethics For The Easily Swayed in Do You Know The Bitter Dark Secret Behind Chocolate?, or watch this BBC documentary.
Foods Rich in Heart-Healthy Flavonoids
- Green tea
- Red wine
And now, just for fun, here’s how to Figure Out Your Age Using Chocolate Math:
- Pick the number of times a week that you would like to have chocolate (more than once, less than 10)
- Multiply this number by 2
- Add 5
- Multiply by 50
- If you’ve already had your birthday this year, add 1759. If not, add 1758.
- Subtract the four-digit year that you were born
- You should now have a three-digit number – the first digit is your original number, and the next two are your age! Try it – it works!
© Carolyn Thomas www.myheartsisters.org
Q: What’s your favourite kind of chocolate treat?