By Jeffrey VanWingen M.D. — One of many Nutrition blogs on SmartLivingNetwork.com
I love chocolate. Maybe its chocolate's use as a reward in my childhood or maybe its just the fact that it tastes wonderful. Maybe this blog is simply justification to consume a food I love - maybe. However, I have come across some promising research. Turns out, this wonderful treat loved by so many has a number of great health benefits to offer!
Before we make the leap that I can eat the whole bag of Cadbury chocolate eggs on my nurse's desk and reap hoards of health benefits, let's touch on the reality and get perspective. The health benefits found in chocolate are strictly from cacao or cocoa which is the powder produced from toasting and grinding cacao. Cacao and cocoa are a far cry from a Hershey bar.
In it's pure form, cacao is bitter and filmy. We make it taste good with milk and sugar (much like coffee). Whereas Hershey's milk chocolate bar is 11% cacao, most research on consumption that showed benefit occurred with at least 70%. Not only does the benefit of cacao get watered down considerably with milk chocolate, but plenty of unhealthy stuff gets mixed in to make it near completely unhealthy. If you want your chocolate to be healthy, it must be quite "dark" or high in cacao content-- at least 70%.
Multiple studies have shown that chocolate is rich in flavonoids, anti-oxidants with cardiovascular benefits. These flavonoids have been shown to promote health and flexibility of blood vessels. (Recent research presented this month revealed this is thanks to our gut bacteria breaking down the large chocolate compounds to smaller compounds which are absorbed into the blood to confer cardiovascular benefit.(1)) Anti-inflammatory properties have also been found which are important in cardiovascular disease prevention. In fact, there are many studies showing an association with regular cacao/cocoa consumption and reduction of heart disease:
Too much candy may be the cause of diabetes for some. However, dark chocolate may actually reduce the body's resistance to insulin - a fundamental metabolic problem in adult onset diabetes. In a small Italian study, subjects consumed dark chocolate daily for 15 days. The study showed that the high flavanol content in the chocolate increased levels of a compound called nitric oxide.This not only reduced insulin resistance in the body, but also reduced blood pressure.
While small in its numbers, the study opened some important doors for the use of flavonoids to increase nitric oxide in the body which is known to improve blood sugar control and relax blood vessels. (4) To augment these findings, another study revealed that consumption of dark chocolate in obese individuals blunted rises in blood pressure with aerobic exercise.
Theobromine, a caffeine-like compound found in cocoa has been found to be helpful in treating cough. In fact, it has been shown in studies to be as effective as codeine, a narcotic cough suppressant, without the groggy side effects. Researchers hypothesize that it works directly on the vagus nerve that is responsible for generating cough. (5) I am betting that chocolate tastes better than most cough medicines as well.
A wide variety of other benefits have been found in consuming high-cacao chocolate.
Chocolate has some undeniable benefits to our health. And it tastes really good. This superfood, however, is a double-edged sword. Most chocolate is adulterated with unhealthy substances to make it taste better, reducing the health benefits and even making it unhealthy. So, eat chocolate, reap its health benefits, but keep it heavy on the cacao.
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