One glimpse of chocolate, and you are no doubt searching through your bag of excuses to justify a bite or two. You’ve likely heard that it is good for your heart health. And, you desperately want it to be true, but is it?
The answer depends on the piece of chocolate you’re eye-balling. Within each little morsel of deliciousness, there are three basic ingredients – cocoa mass/cocoa liquor (no alcohol, just processed cocoa bean), cocoa butter and sugar.
Additional ingredients, such as milk and flavoring may be added, but all chocolate starts with this base. Depending on the chocolatier, the base ingredients will be added in varying proportions. The health benefits from eating chocolate depend on this ratio. Here’s why.
Of the three base ingredients, only cocoa confers heart health benefits. Fat, especially saturated fat found in cocoa butter, and sugar, act in opposition to heart health.
Heart health is improved by lowering blood pressure. Antioxidants, such as the polyphenols in cocoa, help do just that. Chocolate with more cocoa also means less fat and sugar. Lowering fat and sugar, while increasing cocoa may also help prevent low density lipoproteins, (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol from rising – at least short term. Longer term studies find changes in cholesterol are neutral.
Dark chocolate is good for heart health, however, before diving into a box of chocolates, read this:
- More is not better. Enjoy 1 oz. portions, roughly every other day (average 5 – 10 oz/week, spread out).
- Eating more than 18 ounces of chocolate a week has shown to be harmful to heart health.
- Your taste buds may need to adjust to dark chocolate; bitter is better which is the taste of healthful polyphenols. Best bet is dark chocolate with 70 – 80% cocoa.
- 1 oz. dark chocolate = 165 mg polyphenols
- Milk chocolate also has polyphenols, but fewer because it contains less cocoa. And, milk reduces the bioavailability of them. In other words, you absorb less.
- For comparison: 1 oz. milk chocolate = 45 mg polyphenols
- Weight gain, not recommended for heart health, can result from eating too much, because it is high in calories (thanks to fat and sugar).
- Fruits, nuts and vegetables are also a great source of polyphenols. Add more polyphenols with Dark Chocolate Bark with Pistachio and Dried Cherries.
- It can raise blood sugar. If living with diabetes, this may further compromise heart health.
- Eating chocolate may help reduce stress, which lowers blood pressure. Eat it slowly to taste it mindfully.
For more information about the history of cacao check out this article by Michigan State University.