Chocolate in a nut shell: Some delicious facts you should know!

The sweet facts! With Valentine’s Day today, I hope you have had a chance to dive into the delicious, silken smoothness, of  the molten chocolate lava cake featured earlier this week. Very few folks can pass up the allure of real chocolate, but is it just another decadent treat, or does it contain substances that might actually be good for you? On this Valentine’s day, (if we can tear ourselves from the very chocolate being discussed), let’s pause to shine the spotlight on the naturally occurring phytochemicals* found in cocoa, and in particular dark chocolate, and discover how they can impact our health.

Dark chocolate has been associated with heart healthy benefits. © Copyright, Sangeeta Pradhan, RD, LDN, CDE.

Cocoa and dark chocolate have been associated with heart healthy benefits. © Copyright, 2016, Sangeeta Pradhan, RD, LDN, CDE.

Dark chocolate has been associated with heart healthy benefits. © Copyright, Sangeeta Pradhan, RD, LDN, CDE.

Dive into the deliciousness of this waist watcher version of molten chocolate cake, featured last week. © Copyright, 2016, Sangeeta Pradhan, RD, LDN, CDE.

Is chocolate really good for you? There are numerous studies describing the health benefits of dark chocolate, that chocolate lovers everywhere, can take heart from. The media in turn has been touting its benefits for some time now. Chocolate, sans it’s high fat, sugary content just might be good for you! The naturally occurring phytochemicals* in chocolate called flavonols (also called polyphenols), have been associated with anti-inflammatory effects in folks at risk of heart disease. A cross-sectional study in which almost 5,000 men and women participated, showed an inverse relationship between chocolate consumption and heart disease.

A powerful antioxidant, cocoa may lower blood sugar and blood pressure too: Other studies  have demonstrated cocoa’s antioxidant properties and ability to prevent platelets clumping to form clots, thus reducing one’s risk of stroke, or a heart attack. High blood pressure is considered one of the most important risk factors for heart disease, and cocoa consumption is associated with lower blood pressure as well.

On a slightly different note, there is some evidence regarding cocoa bean’s ability to reduce your blood sugar levels, by inhibiting enzymes in your body that break food starches down into individual sugar molecules. Related to this, flavonol rich chocolate has been shown to reduce insulin resistance (inability to utilize available insulin, thus raising blood sugars) as well.

Yet another study showed that the polyphenolic substances derived from cocoa powder called catechins and procyanadins, may contribute to a reduction in LDL, a.k. a., lousy cholesterol, the kind that clogs your arteries, an elevation in HDL, or your happy/healthy cholesterol, that believe it or not, actually unclogs arteries. There is also some evidence indicating  that these flavonols can help dilate (open up) your blood vessels and improve blood flow by producing a substance called nitric oxide. As you can imagine, this in turn will help lower your blood pressure, as there is less force exerted on vessel walls within a dilated blood vessel, compared to a narrow, constricted one.

Exception to the rule: What’s more, unlike other saturated fatty acids, the saturated fatty acid in chocolate called stearic acid, is not known to raise cholesterol levels. How about that??

The lighter side of dark chocolate! Unfortunately, the more popular milk chocolate, is much lower in flavanols than dark chocolate. As  as a rule of thumb, the higher the percentage of cocoa solids  and subsequently, the more bitter the taste, the higher the flavanol content. As for white chocolate, it does not make the grade at all, as it does not contain cocoa solids. What it does contain is a mixture of milk solids, butter and cocoa butter, with zilch for flavonol content.

Dark chocolate has been associated with heart healthy benefits. © Copyright, Sangeeta Pradhan, RD, LDN, CDE.

The antioxidants in dark chocolate have been associated with heart healthy benefits, including reduced risk of stroke. © Copyright, 2016, Sangeeta Pradhan, RD, LDN, CDE.

Clearly, there is mounting evidence demonstrating the health benefits of chocolate. That said, bear in mind that milk chocolate comes at a price. It is laden with sugar, cream and calories. While an occasional indulgence does not hurt, the super star here is dark chocolate, winning hands down over its distant, white cousin. So if you are a chocolate lover, try to choose dark chocolate with a higher percentage of cocoa solids (ideally about 70% cocoa), as this is going to have a significantly higher flavonol content. Thus, small amounts of dark chocolate in the context of a healthy diet, might mean eating your chocolate and having it too!! Happy Valentine’s day to all!

*Phytochemicals are naturally occurring compounds in plants, with beneficial effects in human beings.

Disclaimer: This blog is strictly for informational purposes, and should not be construed as medical advice. Please consult your personal physician or registered dietitian for recommendations tailored to your specific needs.

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About Sangeeta Pradhan RD, CDE

Hi there! Welcome to my blog! If you are confused with all the conflicting messages you get bombarded with every day on carbs, fats, proteins, gluten and anything you can think of related to nutrition, look no further! The purpose of my blog is to cut through all this clutter, utilizing scientific, evidence based guidelines to help you, the consumer, navigate the complex, dietary landscape, and thus empower you to make informed decisions.
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21 Responses to Chocolate in a nut shell: Some delicious facts you should know!

  1. Carrie Rubin says:

    Ah, you beat me too it–I was planning a blog post on this very subject based on those recent studies. 🙂 Loved reading your take on it. And you’re right–it’s not all unicorns and rainbows. We still have that sugar and fat of chocolate to contend with. Sigh.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hey, thanks, Carrie. There is a plethora of research out there! My challenge is to distill it into a concise post so readers get the highlights without getting blurry eyed. Would love to read your take on this topic too. I’m sure you would give it full justice:)))!

    Like

  3. Carrie Rubin says:

    With a bit of humor, I’m sure. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Carrie Rubin says:

    Of course, I always have blog ideas lined up, and then something new comes along and I forget about the old ones. So my post on chocolate may never see the light of day. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I can totally relate to that:))!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. balroop2013 says:

    Wow! This post makes me happy…thank you for saying so many good words about chocolates. I have always believed two little pieces everyday make an excellent, stress-free dessert! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Yes, Balroop, but only in the context of an overall healthy diet, and dark chocolate with about 70% cocoa or higher. Sigh.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you for all this information on chocolate. If we eat chocolate, we eat dark chocolate. Nice to know that dark chocolate, cocoa is a great treat and helps you in many ways. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thanks, Lizzie for your great feedback as always. Yes, as noted here- all chocolates are not created equal, and one can harness the greatest health benefits from dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa, as it has the highest amounts of antioxidants called flavonoids. Small amounts of dark chocolate are acceptable, in the context of an overall healthy diet of course!😊

    Like

  10. Nibbling my daily 80% dark chocolate in your honor. Cheers —

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Go for it, Julia!!! The darker, the better!

    Like

  12. Wow 🙂 Randomly landed in your page :):)Love reading it !!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Thanks so much! Glad you liked my blog! Do visit again; will check out yours soon. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Sure 🙂 And welcome to my Blog Sangeeta Pradhan

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Thanks so much for reinforcing my thoughts on chocolates, I love the spread and I prefer the dark chocolates, as said I keep looking for the cocoa content. Indeed moderate consumption is always good for health, phytochemicals are something I had no idea, I always keep adding to my knowledge base every time I visit your deeply informative post. Thanks once again for sharing with us.

    The sweet facts, but the bitter it is the better it is for our health…
    😀

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Excellent feedback! Very well said, Nihar. Love how you recapped it…”The sweet facts, but the bitter it is the better it is for our health”. Thank you as always for your thoughtful comments:))

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Always my pleasure reading your post…:D

    Like

  18. Leyla says:

    Chocolate.. yummy 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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