Oh joy…Almond Joy, M & M’s, Snickers, Hershey Bars, and so forth. According to a new report by the American Heart Association researchers have found a link between daily chocolate consumption and heart health.
Well, actually they were referring to the positive effects of cocoa flavanols, a subgroup of flavonoids found in chocolate. Dark chocolate (30%- 70% cocoa) contains the highest levels of flavanols, which are also present in grapes, apples, peanuts, onions, tea and red wine.
Not only do flavonoids help protect plants such as fruits and vegetables from environmental toxins, it helps repair damage caused by free radicals formed from breathing in pollutants. As a result, when people consume foods rich in flavonoids, we, too, benefit from this “antioxidant” power.
Research also shows that flavanols can lower blood pressure, improve blood flow to the brain and heart, and make blood platelets less sticky and able to form plaque in blood vessels.
However, before grabbing any of the goodies mentioned above, it is important to note that not all forms of chocolate contain high levels of flavanols. In fact, when cocoa is processed into your favorite chocolate treats it goes through several steps to reduce its naturally bitter taste.
The more chocolate is processed (via things like fermentation, alkalizing, roasting, etc.), the more flavanols are leeched out. Thus, as a matter of production, the majority of commercially produced chocolates are highly processed. However, the good news is that most major chocolate manufacturers are looking for ways to keep the flavanols in their processed chocolates.
It should also be noted that the fat in chocolate, which is derived from cocoa butter, is comprised of equal amounts of oleic acid (a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat also found in olive oil), stearic and palmitic acids. Stearic and palmitic acids are forms of saturated fat.
Yet research now shows that stearic acid appears to have a neutral effect on cholesterol, neither raising nor lowering it, although palmitic acid does affect cholesterol levels (particularly when it comes to LDL or bad cholesterols). At the same time, palmitic acid only makes up 1/3 of the fat calories in chocolate.
Conclusions for the study mentioned were reached after scientists examined the eating and lifestyle habits of more than 1,100 adults ages 18- 69 over the course of 2- years, at which time they determined that eating 100 mg of chocolate every day corresponded with lower insulin resistance and liver enzymes, which are indicators of heart disease risk.
At the same time this doesn’t give people license to eat all the dark chocolate they want. Keep in mind that that box of Valentine’s Day candies you may have received also is full of other ingredients such as chewy caramel, and-marshmallow, etc., which have no positive heart health benefits and can only serve to help pack on the pounds and increase levels of blood sugar.