Everyone is always looking for excuses to choose chocolate. Multiple health claims about chocolate may have you thinking that a bowl full of chocolate ice cream will cure more than just a broken heart. Does chocolate really provide cardiovascular benefits? Before you head to the grocery store to load up on all things chocolate, let’s take an honest look at the proposed health benefits.
Studies published in the “Journal of the American Medical Association,” “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,” and others offer promising results to support the heart healthy benefits of chocolate. The disease-fighting ingredient for chocolate is the cacao (cocoa) bean. It is packed full of naturally occurring phytochemicals, known as flavanols, that provide the beans with antioxidant “super powers.” Research has shown that flavanols have the potential to produce positive effects on vascular health, such as lowering blood pressure, improving blood flow to the brain and heart and reducing the rate of blood clots to prevent heart attacks and stroke.
Before you indulge in the rich, chocolate deliciousness, keep in mind that not all forms of chocolate are created equal. Milk chocolate and chocolate syrup have the lowest amount of flavonoids while forms of dark chocolate, like natural cocoa powder and unsweetened baking chocolate, top the list. White chocolate contains zero flavanols since it’s not actually chocolate but cocoa butter. The level of flavanols in dark chocolate can vary greatly depending on the type of cacao bean, the amount of cocoa solids and the amount of processing it undergoes.
Eating more chocolate does not equal more health benefits. The cacao bean is healthy by itself but combine it with cream, butter and sugar mixes up a recipe for heart disease. Besides adding empty calories to fatten your waistline, these additions will thin out the benefits of cacao. As a general rule of thumb, choose the least processed and bitterer form of chocolate to find higher levels of flavanols. Look for dark chocolate with at least 70% cacao to help reap some of the cardiovascular benefits.
There is no reason to feel guilty for treating yourself to 1 ounce of antioxidant rich chocolate a few times a week, but don’t give yourself flawed excuses to eat it every 10 minutes!
Written by Jordyn Forsyth, MS, RD, LD, CDE
Jordyn Forsyth is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She specializes in weight management, chronic disease prevention and health promotion. Jordyn strives to educate, empower and encourage others to make sustainable lifestyle changes. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Nutrition Sciences from Baylor University and a Master’s Degree in Nutrition from Texas Woman’s University.