-Saturday, July 7th is World Chocolate Day!
You may have heard that dark chocolate can be good for heart health. Today, we explain what, why, and how much to enjoy to reap this delicious treat’s benefits.
Let’s take a step back in time…
As far back as 600 AD, the ancient Mayans revered the cocoa bean so much that it served as their currency and thus a symbol of status. Those who were fortunate enough to have extra cocoa cash to spare would mix a drink called “chocolatl” made from chocolate and spices. They believed the drink to bring wisdom, power, energy, and immunity – and they weren’t far from the truth. From the Mayan Emperor Montezuma, to Casanova in Italy, to our own Thomas Jefferson, cultures around the world began to adopt cocoa as a food for wellness.
The nutrition science that backs it up:
To get the famed health benefits that chocolate provides, opt for a dark chocolate that is at least 70% cocoa. Instead of dark chocolate-based candies or truffles, which likely have added sugar and fat, opt for a high quality bar of dark chocolate. This way, you can truly enjoy the rich chocolate flavor and feel satisfied with just a few bites. Check out our previous post on mindful eating to savor every moment.
Moderation is key. One or two ounces of this type of chocolate a few times a week is good for you. One ounce looks like three small dice. Dark chocolate contains the same type of antioxidants found in red wine – polyphenols. Antioxidants found in almost all fruits and vegetables help to prevent cell damage caused by free radicals. Polyphenols are phytochemicals – biologically active compounds in plants – known to increase the body’s natural defenses. Chocolate’s polyphenols also appear to boost good cholesterol (HDL) and lower bad cholesterol (LDL), as observed in a study published by the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry in 2011.
Flavonoids are another type of nutrient found in plants. Flavonoids are the largest group of phytonutrients, with more than 6,000 types. Flavonoids are also powerful antioxidants, and boast anti-inflammatory and immune system benefits. A study from the University of California at Davis indicated that the flavonoids in dark chocolate also reduce the stickiness of platelets, cells that promote blood clotting. This resulted in longer clotting time, reducing the danger of coronary artery blockages.
In addition to antioxidants, cocoa is also a source of minerals: potassium, magnesium, copper, calcium and iron. Cocoa contains both phenylalanine and serotonin, two substances which promote good mood and a healthy sleeping pattern. Although the exact mechanism is unclear, diets rich in antioxidants and flavonoids are sometimes associated with cancer, neurodegenerative and cardiovascular disease prevention. It is safe to say that dark chocolate is a healthy addition to a balanced diet.
Valerie Koschnick RDN, CD