A Source of:
Dark chocolate is a SuperFood.
For many of us, this is a dream come true. The interesting thing is that many people have told me that once they think of chocolate as a food that’s beneficial to health, even though they still love and enjoy it, because it’s no longer “forbidden,” they’re somehow less tempted to gorge on it.
This news doesn’t mean that you should toss out the oatmeal and fill your cabinets with chocolate:
- Keep your daily dark chocolate intake to about 100 calories per day
- Eat only dark chocolate
First, and most important, is the amount of chocolate: You can’t eat as much as you want. It’s high in calories and eating too much of it can sabotage your other achievements. If you eat excessive amounts of chocolate, you can gain weight. Depending on your weight and activity level, chocolate should be a small treat, a little healthy indulgence that will have to be accounted for in your overall calorie intake/activity equation.
When you do indulge in chocolate and you’re looking for a health benefit, choose dark chocolate. Milk chocolate or white chocolate (the latter isn’t even real chocolate) won’t do.
Here, in a nutshell, is the good news: Dark chocolate seems to contribute to lowering blood pressure, increasing blood flow, and ultimately contributing to a healthy heart.
It’s a myth that chocolate is loaded with caffeine. While there is some caffeine in chocolate, it’s not much. In a typical chocolate bar, the caffeine content ranges from 1 to 11 mg. An 8-ounce cup of coffee has about 137 mg of caffeine.
What Makes Dark Chocolate a SuperFood?
It’s the polyphenols.
Whoever first thought to smash a yellow, hard-shelled cocoa pod, scoop out the cocoa beans meshed in the pulpy inside, and turn them into one of nature’s most delicious and versatile foods? We can only be grateful. The cocoa beans that yield the chocolate we love come primarily from Africa, Asia, or Latin America. It takes approximately four hundred cocoa beans to make one pound of chocolate. The beans are processed into a sticky paste called chocolate liquor, which is then used to make chocolate products. The humble chocolate bar is the product of cocoa butter, chocolate liquor, and sometimes powdered cocoa, which is combined with sugar, emulsifiers, and sometimes milk. Chocolate is about 30 percent fat, 5 percent protein, 61 percent carbohydrate, and 3 percent moisture and minerals. The magic in the mix as far as health benefits are concerned is the polyphenols, specifically the flavonols.
Polyphenols: The SuperNutrients
Flavonols are plant compounds with potent antioxidant properties. Cocoa beans, along with red wine, tea, cranberries, and other fruits, contain large amounts of flavonols. Research is now suggesting that the flavonols in chocolate are responsible for the ability to maintain healthy blood pressure, promote blood flow, and promote heart health.
Chocolate doesn’t just have some flavonols; it has lots. Here’s a chart that gives a sense of comparison:
|Flavonol Content of 100 Grams of Various Foods|
|Dark Chocolate||510 mg|
|Red Wine||63 mg|
|Black Tea, brewed||65 mg|
What About The Fat?
Because chocolate products are often high in sugar and fat, it is generally assumed that eating chocolate leads to weight gain. However, a study of 975 healthy men and women ages twenty to eight-five at the University of California-San Diego showed that adults who consumed chocolate more frequently had lower body mass index (BMI, or weight relative to height) numbers than those who consumed it less often.
The results were not explained by calorie intake, because frequent chocolate intake was linked to more overall calories; nor were they explained by activity or any other potential factors. Although it runs counter to conventional wisdom, this finding is in accordance with a growing body of literature suggesting that the character, and not just the quantity of calories consumed has an effect on BMI and other indicators or metabolic syndrome.
Ordinarily, foods that are high in fat would never make it to SuperFood status. Chocolate is the rare exception for a variety of reasons. While chocolate is approximately 30 percent fat, the fat in it, know as cocoa butter, is approximately 35 percent oleic acid and 35 percent stearic acid. Oleic acid is a monounsaturated fat that has been shown to have a slight cholesterol-lowing effect. Stearic acid is a saturated fat, but it does not raise blood cholesterol levels.
Health Benefits of Chocolate
At least two studies have shown that chocolate consumption does not raise blood cholesterol in humans. Indeed, in one three-week trial, forty-five healthy volunteers were given 75 grams daily of either white chocolate, dark chocolate, or dark chocolate enriched with polyphenols. As you might guess, since white chocolate has no chocolate liquor and isn’t real chocolate, it had no effect, but the dark chocolate increased HDL (“good” cholesterol) by 11 percent and the enriched chocolate increased HDL by 14 percent. As higher HDLs are known to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, the argument for including chocolate in your diet is strong.
In addition, dark chocolate has been shown to protect the skin from sun damage and to increase the serotonin (a feel-good chemical) level in the brain—which may be why we like chocolate so much. That said, these benefits come only from good-quality dark chocolate with at least 70 percent cocoa solids.
Chocolate and Atherosclerosis
Research suggests that atherosclerosis begins and progresses as a gradual inflammatory process. It normally involves years of chronic injury to the lining of the blood vessels. As the lining—or endothelial cells—is damaged, atherosclerotic plaques, or fatty deposits, are formed on the walls of the blood vessels. These plaques both impede the flow of blood and can rupture, leading to a blood clot, which could precipitate a heart attack or stroke.
Chocolate to the rescue. The polyphenols in chocolate act to relax the smooth muscle of the blood vessels. In addition, it seems that these polyphenols also inhibit the clotting of the blood. In a 2001 study, volunteer subjects were given a commercial chocolate bar (Dove Dark) containing 148 mg of flavonols. The end result was that the volunteers showed reduced levels of inflammation and beneficial delays in blood clotting at two and six hours after ingesting the chocolate.
The best way to get chocolate into your life—for your health—is to eat just a square or two daily. One hundred calories of high-quality dark chocolate, eaten in divided doses, is a tasty healthy-promoting strategy.
*This brief summary contains copyrighted material from SuperFoods HealthStyle by Steven G. Pratt, M.D. and Kathy Matthews. Copyright © 2006 by Steven G. Pratt, M.D. and Kathy Matthews Inc., published by HarperCollins; and from SuperFoods Rx For Pregnancy by Steven Pratt, M.D. Copyright © 2013 by SuperFoods Partners, LLC, published by Wiley. All rights reserved.