We all know that dark chocolate is heart healthy, and we now know why, too, but where does one draw the line as to which dark colored cocoa products to eat?
Now that’s an interesting question: With all the research in the last several years promoting dark chocolate for heart health, and the very recent research explaining why this heavenly food is heart healthy, why isn’t there more information on just what kinds of “dark” chocolate goods are truly good for you?
After all, ever notice how dark a Hostess Cupcake is?
But let’s first look at why dark chocolate benefits the heart. Atherosclerosis is hardening of the arteries. This disease is fueled by white blood cell accumulation on the inner arterial walls, and stiffening of the arteries.
What dark chocolate does is help reinstate flexibility to the arteries, as well as prevent the white blood cells from adhering to the inner walls. The full report of the study (Esser et al) is in the March 2014 The FASEB Journal.
The study analyzed the vascular health of 44 overweight, middle aged men, prior to and after the study, which required the subjects to eat 70 grams of chocolate every day for four weeks.
"The effect that dark chocolate has on our bodies is encouraging not only because it allows us to indulge with less guilt,” begins Gerald Weissmann, MD, FASEB’s editor-in-chief, “but also because it could lead the way to therapies that do the same thing as dark chocolate but with better and more consistent results."
With so much research supporting dark chocolate, there’s no doubt that this “food of the gods” is helpful to the heart.
But chocolate lovers with a big sweet tooth need more information. This study report recommends not exceeding 50 grams of dark chocolate a day. It cautions that too much of this mood-lifting food can result in excess saturated fat and calorie intake—which of course is bad for the heart.
The Right Kind of Dark
The best way to implement dark chocolate as part of one’s heart healthy regimen is to eat the kind that’s been minimally processed, that has the fewest ingredients listed. This would be raw cacao nibs. The drawback is that these have a bitter “mid-taste,” in that during the initial chewing, you may find they’re a pleasant treat, but before you’re done, the bitterness will hit.
A much more palatable option is to buy dark cocao bars (or blocks) from a health food store. The bars list percentage of cocao. The higher the percentage, the better, and there are quite a few brands as well as different flavors of dark chocolate (e.g., mint, coconut, fruit).
But just because a chocolate food is very dark visibly (like a Hostess cupcake, other similar products and dark colored donuts, puddings and brownies from a mix), this doesn’t mean these qualify as the type of chocolate that benefits your heart.
Just follow the ingredients rule listed here, and you won’t be confused and think that junky baked goods and conventional candies are what all this research is referring to.