Is chocolate your heart’s delight? Let’s nd out how good it exactly is for your heart…
You may have heard news touting chocolate as a heart-healthy food. But before you indulge your sweet tooth too much, you need to put the reports in context. What’s really in each captivating chunk of chocolate? When it comes to chocolate, what tastes good may be good
for your heart, but moderation remains the rule.
RICH IN ANTIOXIDANTS
Two recent studies have found that some chocolate products contain high levels of antioxidant flavonoids. These are plant-based compounds also present in black tea and some fruits and vegetables. Flavonoids help limit the negative effects of lipoproteins (LDLs), components of the harmful kind of cholesterol. This may help protect arteries and prevent heart disease, stroke and atherosclerosis, a disease characterized by clogged arteries. According to one of the study’s findings, the flavonoids present in chocolate – polyphenols – also inhibit the activity of platelets in blood. Platelets are helpful in clotting, but they can also be associated with heart attacks and strokes.
The studies, while promising, do leave some unanswered questions. Neither study addresses how much chocolate you need to eat to achieve heart-healthy benefits from its flavonoids. Because chocolate is high in calories and sugar and low in fibre, it’s considered unhealthy to eat chocolate in the same quantities that you might eat other flavonoid-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables. In addition, the studies did not test chocolate’s long-term heart benefits. Further, not all chocolates are created equal when it comes to flavonoids. Among chocolate products, the darker it is, the higher it’s likely to be in flavonoids. A 3.5-ounce serving of dark chocolate (about the size of two average chocolate bars) was found to contain 53.5 mg of flavonoids. The same serving of milk chocolate contains 15.9 mg, and a cup of hot chocolate drink has about half that much. White chocolate contains no flavonoids. An 8-ounce glass of black tea, by contrast, was found to contain 37 mg of flavonoids. The chocolate manufacturing process accounts for the varying levels of flavonoids. Chocolate products are derived from cocoa beans. To be made into their final product, though, varying amounts of cocoa powder, cocoa
butter, milk (typically whole milk), sugar and other ingredients are added. This often adds fat and reduces the flavonoids content.
Here’s what each type of chocolate contains: Unsweetened chocolate – This is a mixture of cocoa powder and refined cocoa butter. It’s too bitter to eat and is used mainly in baking. Dark chocolate – This contains cocoa, cocoa butter and varying amounts of sugar. Milk chocolate – Milk chocolate contains cocoa, cocoa butter, varying amounts of sugar and milk. Occasionally, flavours such as vanilla are added. White chocolate – There’s no cocoa in this type of chocolate. It consists of cocoa butter or other fats, sugar, milk and flavourings.
AN OCCASIONAL TREAT
Despite possible heart benefits, chocolate remains a food that should be enjoyed in moderation as part of a balanced diet. That’s because chocolate products are high in sugar, fat and calories. While chocolate may contain more flavonoids than foods such as fruits and vegetables, it’s lower in the other vitamins, nutrients and fibre that contribute to the overall value of these other foods.