Sweet tooth? Three healthy excuses to eat more chocolate
Chocolate has a group of antioxidants called flavonoids, and is high in a specific flavonoid called flavanols
Good news for all you chocolate-lovers feeling guilty about indulging: enjoying a little chocolate might actually be good for your health. It owes its health benefits to a group of antioxidants called flavonoids. Chocolate comes from cocoa beans - the seeds of the Theobroma cacao tree - which, along with other plants such as tea leaves and grapes, are high in a specific type of flavonoid called flavanols.
This does not mean you can splurge. You need to choose your chocolate carefully, and measure how much to eat. Although more research is needed, recent studies have suggested possible health benefits.
Studies have shown that a few squares of dark chocolate a day may reduce your risk of heart attack by almost 50%.
A study published in 2007 by the John Hopkins University School of Medicine found that people who consumed chocolate had slower clotting platelets, an effect similar to taking aspirin. When platelets clot, blood vessels are more likely to block and lead to a stroke.
In a Swedish study, moderate and habitual intake of chocolate was linked to a lower rate of heart failure. The study on 30,000 women over nine years found that those who consumed up to 30g of chocolate had a 26% risk reduction when it was consumed one to three times per month, and a 32% risk reduction when it was consumed once or twice per week.
Several studies have linked lower blood pressure with chocolate consumption as low as 5g per day. This is thought to be due to flavanols, which stimulate the production of nitric oxide and cause veins to dilate, hence lowering blood pressure.
A meta-analysis published in 2012 in the Cochrane Database of Systemic Reviews reported that individuals who consumed 105g of dark chocolate containing 1080mg of flavanols daily saw an average blood-pressure drop of 2.77/2.20 mm Hg when compared to control subjects.
Because it tastes good, chocolate can boost your mood, but it may also have a physiological effect on your body. Chocolate contains serotonin, also known as the “happy hormone,” which regulates your mood and makes you feel more relaxed.
According to a study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, participants who consumed a dark chocolate mix with a large amount of polyphenols - a type of flavonoid - reported greater calmness and contentedness than those who consumed a chocolate drink mix that lacked polyphenols. There are, however, conflicting studies about the effect of chocolate on mood.
Not all chocolate is equal
Most chocolate bars have one thing in common: a lot of calories. Running at an average of 1 calorie per gram, 30g of any type of sweetened chocolate will have about 150 calories. That is about the average recommended amount of three chocolate squares per day.
However, not all chocolate packs the same health benefits. The key is choosing chocolate with the highest flavonol content, determined by the amount of cacao solids. Unsweetened baking chocolate has 206mg of flavanols per 100g. Dark chocolate has half that amount, and flavanol content drops to 15mg per gram in milk chocolate. White chocolate does not contain any cacao solids, hence no flavanols.
A great option is dark chocolate with at least 70% cacao content. Overly processed chocolate - the commercial kind you see in supermarkets - often contains a lot of added sugar and saturated fat.