Are dark chocolates good for the heart?

I started this set of blogs by asking the above question, “Are chocolates good for the heart?” In this blog I conclude by answering this question. You may be surprised to learn that chocolate isn’t as bad for you as was once believed.

Most chocolate falls into one of three categories: white chocolate, milk chocolate, or dark chocolate. Chocolate’s darkness is determined by the proportion of cocoa solids made from cocoa beans that is mixed with cocoa butter and sugar.

Cocoa beans are taken through a number of processes starting with fermentation, drying, roasting, cracking and alkalization. The end result is a paste called cocoa liquor. It contains both nonfat cocoa solids and cocoa butter. After drying again, it is ground into cocoa powder.

The chemical composition of cocoa solids gives an indication on their usefulness. Some of these include, phenylethylamine, theobromine, and many polyphenols, like flavonoids. 

They also contain many vitamins and minerals as well as healthy doses of potassium and copper, which support cardiovascular health, and iron, which transports oxygen through the body.

Many flavonoids are shown to have antioxidative activity, free-radical scavenging capacity, coronary heart disease prevention, and anticancer activity. Most dark chocolate is high in flavonoids, particularly a subtype called flavanols that is associated with a lower risk of heart disease.

When we eat foods rich in flavonoids from any source, it appears that we also benefit from this “antioxidant” power. It is believed that the strong antioxidant properties of these flavonoids may help protect the cardiovascular system and is linked to a lower risk of coronary heart disease.

It is this relationship that is attributed to dark chocolate being beneficial to the heart both from nutritional and pharmacological viewpoints.

They also appear to have neuroprotective, and chemo preventive potential. Other medical benefits include, lowering of blood pressure, improving blood flow to the brain and heart, and making blood platelets less sticky and able to clot.

There has been no absolute direct scientific study to prove this protective factor. There is difficulty in designing studies that could accurately measure the daily intake of flavonoids because of the complexity of existence of flavonoids from various food sources, the diversity of dietary culture, and the occurrence of a large number of flavonoids itself in nature.

Cocoa naturally has a very strong, pungent taste, which comes from the flavanols.

When cocoa is processed into your favorite chocolate products, it goes through several steps to reduce this taste. This level of processing causes more flavanols to be lost.

A standard bar of dark chocolate with 70 percent to 85 percent cacao contains about 600 calories and 24 grams of sugar, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s nutrient database. Milk chocolate contains roughly the same number of calories but twice the sugar.

Hot chocolate or a chocolate bar with more than 75% dark cocoa solids will have a high flavonoid content. White chocolate, however, contains only cocoa butter – no cocoa solids resulting in lost flavonoids– combined with sugar and other ingredients.

Be careful about the type of dark chocolate you choose: chewy caramel-marshmallow-nut-covered dark chocolate is by no means a heart-healthy food option. Watch out for those extra ingredients that can add lots of extra fat and calories.

Of the three types of chocolates, dark chocolates are the best as they are rich in flavonoids. Although the best of the three types, it is best to eat it in moderation.

Enjoying moderate portions of dark chocolate (e.g., 1 ounce) a few times per week along with other flavonoid-rich foods like apples, tea, onions and cranberries is good for the heart.

Published by rajaratnamabel

Having completed my undergraduate medical education from Christian Medical College, Vellore, India. Then I had the privilege of completing my Master of Public Health from the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, USA. I could also complete my PhD in Chennai, India. Based on my extensive work in nutrition backed by a number of scientific publication, I also received the Fellowship of the International College of Nutrition (FICN). I retired from active service in 2005. Since then God enabled me to be a Consultant Public Health Physician, at the SUHAM Trust of the DHAN Foundation in Madurai. I am involved in providing community based health care support to a large number Self Help Groups in 14 Indian states.

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