With so many studies extolling the health benefits of chocolate, does it mean that we can eat chocolate with complete abandon? The healthy effects of chocolate are what all of us are interested in. With so many studies coming out extolling the health benefits of chocolate on heart disease and hypertension, does it mean that we can eat chocolate with complete abandon, revelling in the food that tastes heavenly and shockingly, may actually be good for your health? Tragically, this is not true.
Flavanoids and flavanols are plant molecules present in coloured vegetables, tea, wine and chocolate, among other food products. The flavanol epicatechin is present in cocoa and supposedly improves blood flow and helps with heart health.
Cocoa, the major ingredient of dark chocolate, contains relatively high amounts of epicatechin. White or milk chocolate lovers will be saddened to know that this type of chocolate is often devoid of flavanols, and has no health benefit.
Some studies on a relatively small number of people have shown that dark chocolate is almost as effective as drugs in decreasing high blood pressure. A recent small scientific trial showed that people who were prehypertensive or had early-stage hypertension could lower their blood pressure by eating small amounts of dark chocolate as part of their usual diet.
Flavanols can also decrease the risk of a heart attack by 50 per cent, coronary disease by 10 per cent, and premature death by 8 per cent.
It seems that the benefits of flavanols are almost never ending. By helping the body metabolise sugars, dark chocolate may actually reduce the risk of developing diabetes. Flavanols in dark chocolate also increase HDL (“good”) cholesterol and lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.
In some studies, flavanols have also been shown to improve blood circulation to the brain for two to three hours after eating chocolate. So does the consumption of dark chocolate delay mental aging, improve memory and fight exhaustion?
Dark chocolate has to contain more than 60 per cent cocoa to have its beneficial effects, and is most effective when containing 75-85 per cent cocoa. How many chocolates contain that much or even taste good with those levels of cocoa?
Dark chocolate can be deceptive. Many times, when we think we are eating dark chocolate, the colour is due to darkened cocoa solids; the chocolate itself does not actually contain too much cocoa. Manufacturers of chocolate remove the flavanols because they are bitter. So, unfortunately, even a dark appearing chocolate may not contain enough flavanols. Even the most health conscious among us are kept in the dark, because very rarely do manufacturers label their products with information about the flavanols they contain. It is also unfortunate that the antioxidants in chocolate are rapidly removed from the body in the normal course of events. The antioxidants, therefore, do not have enough time to show their beneficial effect on the blood vessels and the heart.