Finally! Proof that something that makes us happy and tastes good is good for us. The incidence of cardiovascular disease is increasing and is still the leading cause of death in North America even though the largest contributing factors can be directly traced to lifestyle and diet—both of which are firmly in our control.
Scientists continue to look for ways to reduce the risk and reverse the effects of heart disease. The flavanols in dark chocolate were the subject of a recent study in the Netherlands, the results of which indicate a significant health benefit. But before you run out with glee to buy a Mars bar, mind the details.
1. It Helps Decrease Systematic Inflammation.
In the study, two groups of overweight men aged 45 to 70 were given a daily dose (70g) of either high flavanol chocolate (HFC) or normal flavanol chocolate (NFC).
After a four-week trial of daily consumption, both groups showed improved elasticity of arterial walls PLUS reduced white blood cell count and adhesion.
The antioxidant flavanol is attributed with decreasing systemic inflammation, thereby reducing the tendency of cells to stick to the arteries, which in turn can cause clotting—a precursor to heart attack.
The study found no difference between HFC and NFC when it came to reducing inflammation and improved elasticity, however, the subjects preferred the taste of NFC. The flavanols in cocoa are affected in candy-making with the addition of sugar and other ingredients. The health benefit comes from very dark chocolate with a high cocoa content (70 to 80 percent).
2. It Makes Your Brain Smarter.
Dark chocolate has also been found to improve brain function and memory. It’s also more filling than milk chocolate and ironically decreases insulin resistance and cravings for fats and sweets. It also lowers stress and balances hormone production. Dark chocolate can also protect your skin.
Keep in mind that the health benefits come from the flavanol—not sugar—content. Refined sugar should be kept to a bare minimum in your diet. Scan the label of your next chocolate bar for how much flavanol/cocoa is in it.
Unsweetened cocoa powder can be added to almost anything, providing a rich flavor in addition to is antioxidant effects: try it on roasted potatoes or in a smoothie.
You don’t need a lot to have a significant effect; one study concluded that as little as 5 grams made a difference in Flow Mediated Dilation, or the increase of blood flow through a vessel.
Ancient civilizations knew about chocolate—there are many reasons we’ve loved it so long and so well.