Indulge with Chocolate
Chocolate, a decadent and widely recognized indulgent comfort food, contains plant-based chemicals known as flavonoids that produce positive health benefits. Cacao trees, which thrive in tropical regions, produce the cocoa beans used to make chocolate. Cocoa beans contain antioxidants, mostly in the form of epicatechin, which have been linked to improving learning and memory function.
What are flavonoids? They are a group of phytonutrients that occur naturally in fruits and vegetables and have been shown to have various anti-inflammatory and immune system benefits. Some of the most common flavonoid rich foods include tea, berries, and ‘super’ greens such as kale and onions. But what about chocolate and cocoa? One of the most recently studied flavonoids is found in cocoa.
Flavanols are the main components of flavonoids found in chocolate and cocoa. Not only do they have antioxidant properties, but research also suggests they can improve blood flow to the brain, helping to decrease blood clots due to vascular relaxation.
The Facts 1. Chocolate lowers blood pressure. Cocoa flavonoids help improve blood flow to the brain and heart and further reduce risks of clotting due to vascular relaxation. 2. Chocolate is associated with lower cardiovascular risk. According to the results of an 11-year study published in the 2015 medical journal Heart (http://heart.bmj.com/content/early/2015/05/20/heartjnl-2014-307050), higher intakes of chocolate are associated with lower risks of cardiovascular disease. 3. Cocoa flavanols boost brain function. Numerous studies have shown promising evidence that consuming cocoa flavanols sustains memory performance, ultimately leading to improvements in attention, speed, memory and overall brain function. Frontiers in Nutrition recently published two tables (Table 1 and Table 2) that detail numerous studies on the relationship between cocoa flavanols and cognitive function.
The Bottom Line Not all types of chocolate are created equal. Before you run to the nearest store and grab just any chocolate bar, know that not all types of chocolate contain high levels of the beneficial flavanols. Aim to choose chocolate that is 70 percent or higher cocoa and low in sugar and fat. The higher the percentage of cocoa, the more beneficial it appears to be. Moderation is key! Consuming large amounts of chocolate can contribute to unwanted weight gain, which is a risk factor for hypertension, heart disease and diabetes.
Written by: Tiffany Tanksley, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern