The good news is – there is now even more support that the cocoa in chocolate is good for you! But hang on before you raid the Halloween candy aisle!
Yet to be determined is how much of that yumminess is good for you – and of course there are those complicating factors called calories and sugar.
The healthy effects of chocolate come from the flavanols contained in cocoa. Flavanols are found in many foods including tea, red wine, blueberries, apples, pears, cherries, and peanuts. They are also abundant in cacao beans. Processing cacao beans produces cocoa powder, which is the prime ingredient in chocolate.
The flavanols in cocoa have been studied for many years. They have been shown to help lower blood pressure, improve blood flow to the brain and heart, prevent blood clots, and fight cell damage. Researchers found that those who ate cocoa also had lower levels of triglycerides and higher levels of “good” cholesterol. While the beneficial effects were small to modest, the findings were nonetheless statistically significant.
However, the amounts of flavanols are not standardized among chocolate products. Because cacao has a naturally strong, pungent taste it is processed during which some of the beneficial flavanols are lost. While most commercial chocolates are highly processed, many major chocolate manufacturers are now attempting to keep more flavanols in their processed chocolates.
Higher concentrations of flavanols tend to be in dark chocolate (also known as “bittersweet” or “semisweet” chocolate and with little or no added sugar) more so than milk chocolate (which may also be loaded with fats and sugars). Higher flavanol content was also found cocoa powder that had not undergone Dutch processing (which uses alkali to neutralize its natural acidity).
Researchers warn there is no way to know whether the apparent beneficial effect of chocolate will actually affect people’s health in a significant way. There is a need for more insight into how the “short-term” apparent benefits revealed by the studies may affect people over the long term. There is also no recommendation yet as to how much chocolate per day is best.
John Finley, an adjunct professor of nutrition and food sciences at Louisiana State University, says cocoa “is likely to be beneficial along with other approaches to improving health.” But, he added, “Cocoa is frequently combined with high-sugar products, which would be likely to cancel any benefits.”
Finley recommends taking cocoa flavanols through cocoa supplements available in sugar-free forms. He also stated that he sprinkles two rounded teaspoons of cocoa on his oatmeal everyday. “I also suggest the extra-dark cocoa. It tastes better and may have more benefits,” Finley said.
PS – Beware of some dubious”medicinal chocolate” vendors selling chocolate at high prices on the Internet.
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