Chocolate is simply the ultimate comfort food. It's a sure-fire standby in times of stress, a reliable source of comfort when life lets you down, and a quick mood-booster when you're in need of a pick-me-up.
But is it at all healthy? The good news is yes - chocolate is great for your heart health!
Good chocolate, which is to say dark chocolate, with a cocoa percentage of 70% or more, is especially good for your ticker.
Read on to learn more about the amazing heart health benefits of chocolate and why not all chocolate is made equal.
Chocolate is rich in flavonoids – a heart-healthy nutrient
Chocolate is derived from cocoa beans, which are rich in a beneficial nutrient known as flavonoids. Flavonoids are great for your heart because they pack loads of antioxidant power. Antioxidants help your body's cells resist damage caused by free radicals that are formed by normal bodily processes, such as breathing, and from environmental contaminants, like cigarette smoke.
If your body doesn’t have enough antioxidants to combat the amount of oxidation that occurs, it can become damaged by free radicals. For example, an increase in oxidation can cause low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as "bad" cholesterol
, to form plaque on the artery walls.
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Flavanols are the main type of flavonoid found in cocoa and chocolate. In addition to having antioxidant qualities, research shows that flavanols have other potential influences on vascular health, such as lowering blood pressure
, improving blood flow to the brain and heart, and making blood platelets less sticky and able to clot.
These plant chemicals aren’t only found in chocolate. In fact, a wide variety of foods and beverages are rich in flavonols. These include cranberries
, apples, peanuts, onions, tea and red wine.
But not all forms of chocolate contain high levels of flavanols…
Cocoa naturally has a strong, pungent taste, which comes from the flavanols. When cocoa is processed into your favourite chocolate products, it goes through several steps to reduce this taste. The more chocolate is processed (through things like fermentation, alkalising, roasting, etc.), the more flavanols are lost.
Most commercial chocolate bars are highly processed. Although it was once believed that dark chocolate contained the highest levels flavanols, recent research indicates that, depending on how the dark chocolate was processed, this may not be true.
But here’s some good news: Most major chocolate manufacturers are looking for ways to keep the flavanols in their processed chocolates. But for now, your best choices are likely dark chocolate over milk chocolate (especially milk chocolate that is loaded with other fats and sugars) and cocoa powder that has not undergone Dutch processing (cocoa that is treated with an alkali to neutralize its natural acidity).