Eating heart-healthy means eating chocolate! My patients are super-excited when I add chocolate to the meal plan.
Dark chocolate, that is. More and more medical research is confirming that compounds found in dark chocolate are beneficial for our hearts.
Chocolate, especially dark chocolate, has health-promoting properties called flavanols, which are part a larger group of phytochemicals called flavonoids.
Flavonoids are antioxidants, which are chemicals that help protect cells from cellular damage and improve cell repair. Flavanols are specifically found in dark chocolate, and have been shown to reduce cardiovascular risks in three ways.
• Flavanols make blood platelets less sticky so they don’t attach to the surface of the blood vessels and are less able to clot.
• Flavanols improve blood flow, especially to the brain and heart.
• Flavanols lower blood pressure.
How do these health benefits translate into the type of chocolate that you can eat for heart health?
The highest benefits are found in the most unprocessed dark chocolate, which can taste extremely bitter.
The more processing the chocolate goes through, the more health benefits get destroyed. This includes roasting, alkalizing, or fermentation. For example, Dutch processing is a type of alkalizing process. The more sugar, fat and dairy are added to chocolate, the fewer benefits chocolate has for your heart.
Chocolate products you might buy don’t only have chocolate. They also contain fats and sugar to improve the taste, in amounts that vary from one product to another. So all chocolates don’t have the same health benefits.
White chocolate and milk chocolate do not have as many benefits as dark chocolate. Chocolate with high fat, dairy and sugar is not healthy for you.
There is one interesting note about the fats found in chocolate. Primarily, chocolate contains three types of fats. Cocoa butter is made up of oleic acid, stearic acid and palmitic acid in equal parts.
Oleic acid happens to be a monounsaturated fat, which is heart-healthy. Stearic acid, a saturated fat appears to have no effect on raising or lowering cholesterol.