Not only does it taste great but dark chocolate is associated with numerous cardio protective benefits which means that it may help your heart pump more efficiently for longer. These benefits are linked to the polyphenol content of cocoa. Polyphenols, of which flavonoids are the most commonly consumed in our diet, are a class of plant nutrient found in high concentrations in fruit and vegetables, tea, cocoa and wine. Foods that sound like a lot of goodness to me.
The flavonoids in cocoa have received much attention in research although the exact mechanisms of action is poorly understood and consensus on the benefits of their use are inconsistent. Recently a few review studies involving chocolate or cocoa and their health benefits summarised it all quite nicely; it appears that the primary benefit of the flavonoids in cocoa is due to their effect on increasing the bioavailability of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide helps improve cardiovascular and circulatory health by relaxing smooth muscle and improving blood flow. (Note: the same exists for red wine consumption due to its flavonoid content!)
Further benefits of these flavonoids for your health include lowered blood pressure, reduced blood platelet dysfunction (clotting), increased antioxidant activity and a possible improvement in insulin resistance.
However, the flavonoid concentration in chocolate varies greatly and most of this variation is due to processing where every step along the way from bean to bar results in a loss of flavonoids. Naturally different varieties of cocoa bean will also vary in flavonoid concentration. Cocoa and dark chocolate are the best choice for this reason, they are less refined. Dark chocolate also contains cocoa butter which is a “cholesterol neutral” form of fat for anyone concerned about this. Ideally no or low sugar options should be chosen to limit total sugar intake as we all know by now the impact of added sugars on our health. The greater strength and richness of flavour in dark chocolate also means we hopefully eat less of it, helping to control total energy intake and avoiding over indulgence. Most benefits are seen in chocolate of 70% and greater, in theory the higher the percentage cocoa, the higher the levels of protective nutrients.
In South Africa we now have an number of local producers of fine dark chocolate so support these and do your heart a ‘flavour’. Dark chocolate and red wine…who said healthy eating is boring!