Happy Easter to everyone! I felt this was an appropriate time to talk about chocolate and its health benefits! As we are surrounded by chocolate eggs and chocolate bunnies to celebrate Passover! No doubt we all over-indulged this weekend! The good news.....Studies are now emerging which suggest that chocolate may have protective effects on heart health, improve mood and may even have beneficial effects on gut health. So, that has us asking some important questions… Is Chocolate Really Good For us?? Were there any health benefits of eating Easter Eggs for breakfast, lunch and dinner this weekend...?
Let’s break down some of the FACTS.
Chocolate: A Powerful Antioxidant?
Chocolate is made from Cocoa, and cocoa products are known to be among some of the richest sources of polyphenols in the diet.
Polyphenols are chemical substances found naturally in many plant products, like fruit and veggies. Polyphenols can be broken down into a few different categories but the ones that are found in chocolate or “Cocoa products” are known as “Flavanoids”. Studies suggest that cocoa has the HIGHEST flavonol content of all foods in the diet and it is one of the main contributors to flavonol intake in the modern diet.
What is so great about these polyphenols? They are found to have powerful antioxidant properties! Antioxidants function by acting as scavengers in the body for free radicals, this prevents damage to cells and tissues in the body and can even reduce inflammation.
More Chocolate = A Happy Heart
Large review studies have investigated the cardio-protective effects of flavonoid-rich cocoa consumption (1). One study took the results of approximately 24 different studies done on cocoa-flavonoids and cardiovascular health. The results are quite impressive. IMPROVEMENTS in blood pressure, insulin resistance and cholesterol levels were all noted, in response to short term consumption of flavonoid-rich cocoa products!
Among many other beneficial components of cocoa, some studies have shown that it may even have anti-inflammatory properties. One study found that subjects who ate dark chocolate regularly had lower blood levels of CRP (C-Reactive Protein) which is a marker of inflammation in the body, than subjects who did not eat chocolate regularly!
Should we be eating more Chocolate?
It ain’t all good news however. Most chocolate that we buy in supermarkets nowadays is highly processed. MANY ingredients are added and industrial processing techniques may actually remove the natural and beneficial polyphenols from the chocolate and some studies suggest that some processing techniques lowers the antioxidant activity of the chocolate.
Make Wiser Chocolate Choices!
It’s also important to note that like everything else… Moderation is KEY. Polyphenols may have benefits but the sugar added to most chocolate products comes with its own range of nasty health effects. Many chocolate products contain large amounts of fat and sugar, too much of which can contribute to weight gain! This will wipe out any healthy benefits of chocolate.
Here a some simple tips for satisfying that chocolate craving this Easter:
The darker the chocolate the better: Choose dark chocolate labelled as 70% Cocoa or higher.
Limit the amount of milk and white chocolate in the diet.
Make hot chocolate using raw cocoa powder and some unsweetened almond or coconut milk.
Add cocoa powder or cocoa nibs to oatmeal or yoghurts.
Avoid chocolate products with fillings like caramel or truffles.
Portion Control is key: have a few pieces of chocolate and save the rest for another time!
So the bottom line…. It seems that the evidence linking cocoa products to improved heart health seems quite solid! This doesn’t necessarily mean we should include chocolate in our daily diet. Because at the end of the day it is a high source of calories. In saying that, moderate amounts could improve health and particularly when its in its rawest form!
I hope everyone enjoyed some chocolatey goodness this weekend, it is important to treat yourself from time to time!
Happy Easter! Enjoy the rest of the week!
Make sure to follow @lorrainekearneynutrition instagram page for more nutrition related information, facts and tips!