Content provided by www.HealthBytesNYC.com
Whether in the form of a hot beverage to keep the winter chill at bay or as delicious candies received as gifts for Valentine’s Day, it would seem that chocolate holds a special place in everyone’s heart this time of year—perhaps year-round if you fashion yourself a chocoholic! There have also been several reports in recent years regarding the health benefits of chocolate, music to the ears of chocolate lovers everywhere. In spite of these health benefits, it is still quite a stretch to say that chocolate is good for you.
So, what about chocolate may provide health benefits?
It is less about chocolate and more about the cocoa bean from which it is produced. Cocoa beans are rich in compounds known as flavonoids. Flavonoids are a class of naturally occurring chemical components of a variety of plants, including the cocoa bean, which have been reported to have a variety of effects on human health, including:
• Acting as antioxidants to prevent and/or reverse cell damage and inflammation throughout the body;
• Improving insulin sensitivity;
• Decreasing cardiovascular risk factors by decreasing blood pressure, improving blood flow through blood vessels, reducing the LDL (bad) cholesterol and increasing HDL (good) cholesterol.
Chocolate—still not quite health food.
An important, and often overlooked, detail regarding the studies behind the reports is that these effects are seen with high concentrations of flavonoid extracts. Although the unprocessed cocoa bean has significant quantities of these compounds, chocolate as it is typically available to most consumers—chocolate bars, candy bars, processed cocoa mix and the like—contains significantly lower quantities of flavonoids, due to losses during the manufacturing process. One would have to eat a large amount of chocolate products daily to obtain similar effects—effects that would certainly be negated by the immense quantity of additional sugar and fat one would also be consuming.
The bottom line…
It would be premature to recommend increasing chocolate consumption to obtain the benefits of the flavonoids it contains. Dark chocolate is marginally better in terms of flavonoid content than milk chocolate, but is still by no means a good source. Due to high sugar, fat and calorie content, chocolate products should be an occasional treat. My personal recommendation would be one 1.5-ounce chocolate bar or one cup of hot chocolate no more than twice a month. If one really wants to eat a flavonoid-rich diet, increased consumption of fruits and vegetables is highly recommended, particularly berries, apples, citrus fruits, cabbages and legumes.
Information provided by Simone Walters, MS, RD, Clinical Nutritionist at Beth Israel Medical Center.