For those of us who are chocolate connoisseurs, it’s hard not to get excited when you read some of the newest medical journal articles that touch on the health benefits of chocolate.
Scientists have been studying chocolate’s primary ingredient, cocoa, to understand what effect it has on inflammation, brain function and heart health.
Of course, the true chocolate fans probably already believe that chocolate is the cure-all for just about anything.
Why the interest in chocolate?
Scientists are interested in chocolate because the main ingredient cocoa contains flavanols, a type of polyphenol. Polyphenols are a category of antioxidants that occur naturally in certain kinds of tea, berries and red wine. They are associated with good health benefits, such as reduced inflammation and lower blood pressure.
Does chocolate to make you smarter?
Scientists in a Harvard study wanted to find out if flavonol-rich cocoa drinks helped elderly persons improve their memory and thinking skills.
The results are interesting. While there was generally no great difference between the groups who received the flavonal-rich cocoa in the two month study and those who did not, there was one exception. The participants who began the study with an already compromised blood flow to the brain showed marked improvement. They could complete a cognitive memory test in 116 seconds (compared to 167 seconds) and the blood flow to their brains increased about 8%.
What about chocolate and blood pressure?
In a recent study of 30 healthy young individuals published in Cardiovascular System, test participants were given a small square (about 8 grams) of 70% cocoa chocolate each day for a month. The test participants who received the chocolate had improved arterial flow (increasing from 14% to 23%).
Consuming regular chocolate candy bars won’t work either. Keep in mind that a serving of 70% cocoa chocolate is not the same as your typical milk chocolate candy bar. This level of cocoa is not terribly sweet and, for some people, it actually might taste like medicine!
A word of caution here. If you have high blood pressure, please confer with Dr Brewton on the best approach (nutrition, exercise and possibly medication) to take for your own health.
Insulin sensitivity and chocolate.
In another study, published in Endocrine Abstracts, scientist tried to determine if consuming polyphenol-rich dark chocolate had an effect on insulin sensitivity among those who do not have diabetes.
After a month, the participants who were eating the polyphenol-rich dark chocolate had better insulin response. The implication is that it’s possible that eating dark chocolate with very high levels of cocoa might help delay or prevent the onset of diabetes and prediabetes.
Chocolate and a Healthy Heart?
A word of caution. With the widespread adoption of electronic medical records, we need to get ready for an explosion of medical studies that crunch data from thousands, if not millions, of anonymized health data records.
Many times this data crunching can uncover unexpected or unexplained relationships which warrant further study. Such is the case of a study from the journal Heart, which attempts to correlate the cause and effect between eating dark chocolate and heart disease.
In this case, the health records of nearly 21,000 men and women were studied to examine the association between chocolate intake and the risk of future cardiovascular events, like cardiac arrest. The results are interesting. Generally, those who reported greater intake of chocolate had statistically lower incidence of future heart disease.
All things in moderation, including chocolate.
You might want to give dark chocolate with 70% or more cocoa a try.
Like all things, eat it in moderation. Just remember: if you take in too many calories from chocolate, you’re likely cancel out cocoa’s benefits for your health.