Quite a few studies have found that chocolate contains flavonoids, a type of polyphenol antioxidant. Research conducted at the University of Scranton has demonstrated that the quality and quantity of antioxidants in chocolate is relatively high when compared to other high-antioxidant foods. Cocoa powder ranks the highest of the chocolate products, followed by dark chocolate and milk chocolate. According to the Chocolate Manufacturers Association, dark chocolate contains about eight times the polyphenol antioxidants found in strawberries.
Benefits of Chocolate?
In November 2001, researchers from Pennsylvania State University found that people with a diet high in flavonoid-rich cocoa powder and dark chocolate have slightly higher concentrations of HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol) when compared with the control group. This study, however, only investigated the health effects of cocoa in 23 people.
In a more recent study published in Hypertension journal in August 2005, researchers from Italy found that dark chocolate may lower blood pressure in people with hypertension. The research also found that levels of LDL cholesterol in these individuals dropped by 10 percent. It is important to note that this study also used a very small test group with only 20 subjects.
More recently, another review study conducted by the Harvard University released their findings in the Nutrition and Metabolism Journal on January 3, 2006.
This Harvard study reviewed 136 scientific articles published between 1996 and 2005 on chocolate and its ingredients. Their analysis found that eating 50 g of dark chocolate per day may reduce the risk of heart disease by 10.5 percent. In addition, eating dark chocolate may lower the risk of dying from heart disease by 19 percent.
What’s in Chocolate?
Research conducted at the University of Scranton has demonstrated that the quality and quantity of antioxidants in chocolate are relativly high when compared to other high-antioxidant foods. Cocoa powder ranks the highest of the chocolate products, followed by dark chocolate and milk chocolate. According to the Chocolate Manufacturers Association, dark chocolate contains about 8 times the polyphenol antioxidants found in strawberries.
Eat more chocolate? The simple answer is No.
All the research conducted so far investigated the benefits of dark chocolate or cocoa powder – not the regular chocolate goodies such as milk chocolate, white chocolate or Dutch chocolate. Moderation is always the key. In spite of high calories and fat from most chocolate bars, having a decadent piece of chocolate once in a while is not going to harm your health either. If you have a choice, choose dark chocolate for its higher flavonoid content!
2 servings of CocoaVia a day? The simple answer is again No.
It is nice to know that it contains at least 100 mg of flavanols in a serving. Therefore, CocoaVia may be a better alternative to other regular chocolate bars. However, if you are not used to eating chocolate every day, it makes no sense to start doing so now. As pointed out by the author of the Harvard study, all chocolate research conducted so far were only of short term nature. No one really knows if the effects can be extended if we eat chocolate every day for a long period of time.
The Bottom Line
It is good to know that chocolate contains ingredients beneficial to health. However, it does not necessarily mean you should eat more chocolate products. Chocolate bars and candies are often high in fat, sugar and calories. Moderation is always the key – having a decadent piece of chocolate once in a while is not going to harm your health, either. If you have a choice, choose dark chocolate for its higher flavonoid content!
If you would like to include more foods with high levels of antioxidants, fruits & vegetables as well as whole grains would be a better bet as they are low in calories and high in vitamins and fiber. For a sensible heart smart diet, emphasize fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fatty fish and choose skinless lean meats.
Chocolate Recipe Substitution: When a recipe calls for chocolate, use dark chocolate (usually less sugar) or even better cocoa powder. To substitute 1 oz of unsweetened chocolate, use 3 Tbsp of dry cocoa + 2 Tbsp of sugar + 1 Tbsp of vegetable oil.
Gloria Tsang is the author of 5 books and the founder of HealthCastle.com, the largest online nutrition network run by registered dietitians. Her work has appeared in major national publications, and she is a regularly featured nutrition expert for media outlets across the country. The Huffington Post named her one of its Top 20 Nutrition Experts on Twitter. Gloria’s articles have appeared on various media such as Reuters, NBC & ABC affiliates, The Chicago Sun-Times, Reader’s Digest Canada, iVillage and USA Today.