If you love chocolate we have some health news that will make you happy!
This week, I was delighted to find some positive news in an email I received from restorative medical health experts, DzLogic. The news is that, eating chocolate may actually lower your risk of heart disease. Want to know more?
Let me share the newsletter item with you. No need to feel guilty about that small treat anymore!
“How about a delicious way to cut your risk of cardiovascular disease by 25%?”
A new study of almost 21,000 people in the UK has shown that higher chocolate intake may very well lower your risk for cardiovascular disease and stroke if you are a healthy adult.
The University of Cambridge UK EPIC-Norfolk study has been running for over 12 years and continues to this day. It was designed to track the effect of diet on cancers, but the data gathered has been used in other ways.
A team from the University of Aberdeen Scotland analyzed the data from 20,951 of the participants and their results were published in the BMJ. They were divided into five equal groups (quintiles), based on the lowest to highest average daily consumption of chocolate.
What they discovered
Over 11.9 years, 13.8% of the people in the lowest chocolate consuming group had coronary heart disease (CHD) incidents. Only 9.7% of the highest chocolate consuming group had CHD incidents. That’s almost 30% lower!
Strokes during this time period were also tracked. There were 848 in the group overall, at a rate of 5.4% in the lowest chocolate consuming quintile and 3.1% in the highest quintile “chocolate lovers” group. The “chocolate lovers” had an over 40% lower rate of stroke than the lowest group.
How is this possible?
The seeds from within cacao pods from which chocolate is made, (often called “cocoa beans”) are packed with a class of nutrients called “flavonoids.” Flavonoids are the plant’s natural antioxidants and they protect it from damage. When we eat foods rich in flavonoids, we get the benefit of these antioxidants.
Flavonols are the primary type of flavonoids found in cocoa and chocolate. In addition to being potent antioxidants, flavonols have been shown to lower blood pressure, make platelets less sticky, and improve blood flow to the brain and heart. Given that all of these things would have a positive impact on overall cardiovascular health, their correlation to the study results seems obvious.
What about the fat content?
We used to think that the fat content in chocolate was a problem, but recent research shows that the fats in cocoa itself (the cocoa butter) consist of equal amounts of oleic, stearic and palmitic acids. Oleic acid is the same monounsaturated heart-healthy fat found in olive oil. Stearic and palmitic acid are saturated fats, but have less negative impact than once thought. However, other fats are sometimes added in the chocolate-making process.
That brings us to the caveat. (There’s always a catch – right?) Not all chocolate is the same. While the study above noticed that the participants actually ate more milk chocolate than dark chocolate, (dark chocolate being unofficially defined as 60% cocoa or more) the participants still got the benefits once thought to be reserved for the more intense dark chocolate.
US health caveat
First, let’s remember that this was a European study and these folks were eating European chocolate. US standards only require 10% cocoa to be called chocolate but European standards require a minimum of 25%. American chocolate also tends to be filled with lots of additional sugars – including High Fructose Corn Syrup hidden as simply ‘corn syrup’.
In addition, every stage of the processing of cacao seeds into chocolate destroys some of the flavonoids. “Dutch process” chocolate mixes the cocoa with alkali to neutralize the acidity, but in doing so destroys nearly all of the flavonoids. That makes it easier to use in commercial baking, bar and ‘chip’ making, and drink mixes; but it is useless in terms of health benefits.
Choose your chocolate wisely
So, if you want the health benefits of chocolate, choose wisely. As an example, even Hershey’s “Special Dark” chocolate contains 50% Dutch process cocoa. I used to nibble on Brookside’s dark chocolate/pomegranate as a snack until I read the label in detail. I found ‘corn syrup’ (read high fructose corn syrup) and canola oil. Damn. I liked those! But I won’t be eating them any more. Guess I’ll have to go back to my old favorite – Ghirardelli!