Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and merchants have stocked their shelves with plenty of chocolate treats to keep chocoholics everywhere satisfied. What you may not know are the potential health benefits chocolate can deliver — if you choose the right chocolate.
Of the chocolate available, the kind that provides the biggest therapeutic benefit is dark chocolate. The helpful compounds in chocolate are polyphenols and flavanols — antioxidants that protect the body from damage. In fact, cocoa beans contain higher concentrations of antioxidants than many fruits. Choose dark chocolate with a minimum of 70 percent cocoa solids to get the most health benefits. With more cocoa solids than milk chocolate, dark chocolate is also often lower in calories, fat and sugar than its sweeter cousin. Specifically the polyphenols seem to positively impact blood pressure and cholesterol.
For people with hypertension, eating dark chocolate can reduce blood pressure. A number of studies support this theory. Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (2007) revealed eating dark chocolate (approximate 30 calories daily) was linked to blood pressure reductions — and without causing weight gain! The polyphenols seem to have the magic effect on blood pressure. In a study contrasting dark chocolate versus white chocolate (which has no polyphenols) hypertension patients who consumed dark chocolate daily for 18 weeks saw a reduction in systolic as well as diastolic blood pressure while the patients who ate white chocolate saw no change in their blood pressure levels.
In research released in February 2011, scientists found that chocolate can raise the body’s levels of HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) and lower LDL (bad cholesterol). Scientists remarked that the polyphenols spur the production of specific proteins that are abundantly found in HDL cholesterol.
At the same time, the polyphenols appear to multiply the development of LDL receptors, which then lower the amount of LDL cholesterol.
In addition to helping lower blood pressure and reduce cholesterol, chocolate has also been shown to reduce stress.
According to a study published in the Journal of Proteome Research (2009), participants who rated themselves as emotionally stressed ate an ounce and a half of dark chocolate daily for two weeks. Researchers noted the chocolate influenced the metabolism and subsequently lowered the amount of stress hormones in the participants. However, before you bite into that chocolate treat, remember, chocolate can be high in sugar, fat and calories, so eating in moderation is vital. If you have health conditions such as diabetes, consult your health care provider to make sure it is safe for you to consume chocolate.