Medical advice and chocolate

November 12, 2012

Medical advice and chocolate

Recent media coverage has indicated that moderate consumption of chocolate may be beneficial to heart health as it offers protection to the cardiovascular system. The reason for this startling claim is that the cocoa bean is a rich source of flavonoids – powerful plant nutrients. Medical advice consistently advices that the consumption of flavonoids should be increased as part of a healthy diet in order to benefit from their antioxidant content.

Antioxidants

Antioxidants are known to combat the effects of free radicals in the body. Medical advice has, for many years, promoted the lowering of cholesterol, particularly so-called ‘bad’ cholesterol; free radicals may increase the levels of this type of cholesterol. Eating a diet containing antioxidant rich foods is one way of combating the effects of the free radicals we are exposed to on a daily basis.

Flavanols

The flavonoid content of cocoa, and therefore chocolate, is usually found as flavanols. Flavonols not only have excellent antioxidant benefits but are also known to improve vascular health in other ways -

  • Lowering of blood pressure

  • Improvement in blood flow to the brain and heart

  • Reduce stickiness of blood leading to a reduced danger of clotting

Flavonols are not only present in chocolate – they are found in a wide range of foods and drinks that may all be consumed as part of a healthy diet. Flavonols are readily found in apples, peanuts, onions, red wine, cranberries, and, of course, chocolate.

Is all chocolate healthy?

The presence of health boosting anti-oxidants in chocolate does not mean it is ok to run out and consume huge amounts of this popular ingredient. Medical advice warns that not all types or forms of chocolate contain the good quality and high levels of flavanols necessary to achieve the benefits to health.

The manufacturing processes involved in turning cocoa into chocolate means that flavanols are lost – the more processed the chocolate product the lower the amount of flavanols it will contain.

Since most chocolate products are highly processed, their flavanol content is significantly reduced – however, many manufacturers are looking at ways of correcting this. Even dark chocolate – for so many years touted as the healthy chocolate – may not be as anti-oxidant rich as first thought.

Medical advice is still, however, to choose dark chocolate rather than milk and to choose a chocolate with untreated cocoa content.

Chocolate and fat

It is widely recognised that chocolate has a high fat content – however, the fat comes from cocoa butter containing healthy monounsaturated fats similar to those found in olive oil. Chocolate does contain some saturated fat – medical advice is that we avoid consumption of saturated fats due to its negative effects on cholesterol levels and heart health – however, this appears to be ineffective on cholesterol levels as it forms only one third of the calories from fat found in chocolate.

Choosing good quality dark chocolate with none of the extra ingredients that add extra fat and calories is something that we can all do without feeling guilty – there is no recommended portion size for chocolate, even the healthy kind, medical advice is to enjoy moderate amounts two or three times a week.

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