Heart-Health Benefits of Chocolate

health benefits of chocolateBut did you know that chocolate could result in health benefits? Researchers have discovered that chocolate has specific heart-health benefits. This is good news for chocolate lovers.

What are flavonoids? Flavonoids are naturally-occurring compounds found in plant-based foods recognized as exuding certain health benefits. Flavonoids are found in a wide array of foods and beverages, such as cranberries, apples, peanuts, chocolate, onions, tea and red wine. There are more than 4,000 flavonoid compounds; flavonoids are a subgroup of a large class called polyphenols. Have you had your flavonoids today? Flavonoids have become a hot topic in the media and in scientific journals.

Flavonoids provide important protective benefits to plants, such as in repairing damage and shielding from environmental toxins. When we consume plant-based foods rich in flavonoids, it appears that we also benefit from this “antioxidant” power. Antioxidants are believed to help the body’s cells resist damage caused by free radicals, formed by normal bodily processes such as breathing or environmental contaminants like cigarette smoke. When the body lacks adequate levels of antioxidants, free radical damage ensues, leading to increases in LDL-cholesterol oxidation and plaque formation on arterial walls. In addition to their antioxidant capabilities, flavonoids also:

Forms of Chocolate

Before you grab a chocolate candy bar or slice of chocolate cake, let’s look at what forms of chocolate would be ideal over others:

What about the Fat in Chocolate?

You may be surprised to find out that chocolate isn't as bad as once perceived. The fat in chocolate, from cocoa butter, is comprised of equal amounts of oleic acid (a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat also found in olive oil), stearic and palmitic acids. Stearic and palmitic acids are forms of saturated fat. Saturated fats are linked to increases in LDL-cholesterol and risk for heart disease.

Research indicates that stearic acid appears to have a neutral effect on cholesterol, neither raising nor lowering LDL-cholesterol levels. Palmitic acid on the other hand, does affect cholesterol levels but only comprises one-third of the fat calories in chocolate.

This great news does not give us a license to consume as much dark chocolate as we’d like. First, be cautious as to the type of dark chocolate you choose: chewy caramel-marshmallow-nut-covered dark chocolate is by no means a heart-healthy food option. What wreaks havoc on most chocolate products is the additional fat and calories added from other ingredients. Next, there is currently no established serving of chocolate to reap the touted cardiovascular benefits. However, what we do know is you no longer need to feel guilty if you enjoy a small piece of dark chocolate once in awhile.

More research needs to be done to determine how much chocolate we can eat in order to acquire cardio-protective benefits. Until then, enjoy chocolate in moderate portions of a few times per week. Don’t forget to eat other flavonoid-rich foods like apples, red wine, tea, onions and cranberries. As soon as more research has been done, it will be posted on this website.

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