Chocolate as Health Food?
Most of us know that fruits, vegetables and grains have health benefits, but did you also know that chocolate could be added to the list—especially concerning heart health? Research shows in tests using the "gold standard" for measuring antioxidants--ORAC (which stands for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity, a method of measuring antioxidant capacities of different foods)--chocolate actually comes out ahead of the former antioxidant champs: tea, Concord grape juice, and blueberries.
Antioxidants are believed to help the body's cells resist damage caused by free radicals, formed by normal bodily processes such as breathing or environmental contaminants like cigarette smoke. When the body lacks adequate levels of antioxidants, free radical damage ensues.
A flavonoid is a pigment in plants and fruits that acts as an antioxidant to protect against damage from free radicals. In the body, flavonoids enhance the beneficial activities of vitamin C and therefore can help keep the body strong.
Tests have shown that the flavonoids in chocolate are particularly potent antioxidants. Chocolate also contains some plant sterols, B vitamins, magnesium, copper, potassium, and other heart-healthy substances.
Forms of Chocolate
Suggested forms of chocolate include:
- Least processed: When cocoa is processed into your favorite chocolate products, it goes through several steps to reduce its naturally pungent taste—which, by the way, is provided by the flavonoids (polyphenols). The more chocolate is processed (such as alkalizing, roasting), the more flavonoids are lost. Most commercial chocolates fit this category, so choose the least processed forms.
- Dark chocolate: Dark chocolate appears to retain the highest level of flavonoids. So your best bet is to choose dark chocolate over milk chocolate. 4
Fat in Chocolate and How Much to Consume
The fat in chocolate, from cocoa butter, contains oleic acid (a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat also found in olive oil) among other fats—but this does not give license to eat as much dark chocolate as we want. Be cautious as to the type of dark chocolate you choose and the serving size—since there is currently no established serving size of chocolate to reap these cardiovascular benefits.5
One thing is for sure--you no longer need to feel guilty if you enjoy a small piece of dark chocolate once in awhile.