Could Chocolate be a Super-Food?

Long before we ate chocolate just for the sheer joy of it, it was a bitter beverage reserved for religious ceremonies and medicinal uses only.

220px-Mayan_people_and_chocolate

Mayan receptacles dating back to 400 AD have been discovered to have residue of cacao (cocoa) in them. It was considered “food of the gods” until Hernan Cortez took it back to Spain in the 1500’s. He gave it to his soldiers for ” resistance and to prevent fatigue”.

Fast forward to the 18th and 19th centuries, and you will find over 100 documents describing the medicinal uses for chocolate.

More recently, a meta analysis was published in the August 2011 issue of the British journal BMJ. After controlling for confounding variables like weight, physical activity, education and other dietary factors, reduction in heart disease and stroke risk (37% and 29% respectively) occurred in the groups  eating the most chocolate. (great justification for my daily Dove dark fix). Even though the studies included a total of 100,000 no cause and effect was established as these were observational studies.

The health benefits behind the consumption of chocolate are generally attributed to flavonoids. This is the same family of compounds found in tea, red wine, grape juice and other plant foods. Flavonoids have strong antioxidant, anti-inflammatoryCocoa_Pods

and anti-clotting properties. Specifically, flavonoids increase the production of nitric acid in the body which helps relax and dilate blood vessels resulting in lowered blood pressure and perhaps other cardiovascular benefits. Cocoa flavonoids may also inhibit the absorption of cholesterol as well as reduce oxidation of LDL (lousy) cholesterol, making it less harmful.

Dark chocolate and milk chocolate come from cacao beans. The process of drying, roasting and fermenting the beans reduces the bitter flavor and the healthful flavanol levels. Americans appear to prefer the taste of milk chocolate over dark, but most of the research involves dark chocolate at least for now.

White chocolate is not chocolate at all but rather a blend of cocoa butter, sweeteners and flavorings. No cocoa solids = no flavonoids.

Ounce-for-ounce, dark chocolate containing 70-85% cocoa solids has more calories and fat than chocolate containing less. Cocoa solids contains potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, oleic fatty acids and fiber besides the flavanols. Not a bad nutrient profile when included as part of a heart healthy diet.

My take-home message is simple: while eating chocolate (yum!) may yield some cardio-protective benefits, enjoy it sparingly. Eating too many extra calories from any food will contribute to weight gain and undo any potential benefit gained. When you do indulge, choose the darkest chocolate that you like.

Adam with Cacao at the Annual Chocolate Festival in Seattle

Adam with Cacao at the Annual Chocolate Festival in Seattle

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About nadineandadamblog

Nadine and Adam are mother and son. Nadine lives in Florida where she has provided outpatient MNT in a large healthsystem for the past 20 years. In addition, she teaches nutrition to second and third year family medicine residents. She is a past-spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Adam lives in Washington State. His career has largely been involved in recipe development and food production. He is currently developing recipes and menus for the Seattle schools to meet the new federal guidelines for school nutrition programs and he does outpatient nutrition counseling. He is also a voice in PSAs over Seattle radio representing the Washington Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
This entry was posted in Food and Healthy Choices, heart health, Posts by Nadine and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Could Chocolate be a Super-Food?

  1. ChefAdamRD says:

    I had the opportunity to taste this fruit in its raw form, although it was nearly impossible to chew, it was quite delicious. It reminded me of a floral mango with a texture reminiscent of Paper Mache.

    Like

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