Whether or not eating chocolate helps or hurts one’s health has been a highly controversial topic. However, researchers are moving the debate to more of a consensus. The evidence appears overwhelming that the consumption of dark chocolate can improve both glucose metabolism (diabetic control) and blood pressure.
Results were gathered from a small study that involved 15 healthy young adults who were supplemented daily with 100 grams of dark chocolate or 90 grams of white chocolate, each of which provided 480 kilocalories. Respectively, the polyphenol content (having antioxidant activity) present in the dark and white chocolate were calculated to be 500 and 0 milligrams (mg). Participants were divided into two groups; each group ingested:
- One type of chocolate for 15 days
- No chocolate for a subsequent seven days
- The other type of chocolate for an additional 15 days
It was discovered that dark chocolate supplementation was linked to improved insulin resistance and sensitivity, as well as decreased systolic blood pressure. The white chocolate, on the other hand, had no effect.
Chocolate’s Flavanol Content
Cocoa is rich in flavanols, a class of polyphenols found in plants; however, the concentration of the flavanols in any chocolate depends on:
- The flavanol content of the cocoa plant it is derived from
- The procedures used to transform the cocoa into chocolate
Chocolate such as the dark chocolate used in the study could contain a relatively high concentration of flavanols. Researchers believe the regulation of nitric oxide production by the flavanols found in dark chocolate could explain its effects on insulin sensitivity and blood pressure. It remains unclear, however, how flavanols interact with the body to increase nitric oxide bioavailability. One suggested mechanism is insulin-mediated cell signaling, because insulin can modulate several signaling molecules involved in nitric oxide-synthase regulation.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition March 2005; 81(3): 541-542 (Free Full-Text Article)
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition March 2005; 81(3): 611-614
Yes, indeed. It's looking more and more like properly processed chocolate can be a health food--a far cry from other known processing methods of chocolate that destroys about one-quarter to one-half of chocolates flavonoids. That is why, for now, the key in regard to chocolate will be to wait for announcements of products that employ the least destructive processing techniques and preserve the highest levels of the beneficial polyphenolic bioflavanoids that are naturally present in cocoa.
Two years ago I ran an article on a similar topic if it was OK to eat chocolate, which provided some simple guidelines to help you make a wise choice:
One: If you eat chocolate, only eat DARK chocolate. Dark chocolate has antioxidant properties, which can actually help to protect the body from damaging oxidative stress. It also is far better than milk chocolate, as adding milk cancels out the chocolate's antioxidant effects. Researchers have suggested that proteins in the milk bind with the antioxidants, making them less easily absorbed by the body. However, please understand that just because chocolate is dark, it does not mean it is healthy. It is important to know that in early 2005 most cocoa is processed in ways that destroy the majority of the beneficial polyphenolic bioflavanoids. But you can safely assume that all milk and white chocolate does not have these beneficial nutrients.
Two: Only eat chocolate if you're healthy. Chocolate, even if it is dark, still contains large quantities of sugar, and eating sugar is a profoundly negative influence on your immune system. So the key point here is that if you are sick, the absolute last thing you want to do is eat any sugars. You want to keep your diet as absolutely clean as possible. That is NOT the time to cheat on your diet.
Three: Consume it in moderation. A small bit of chocolate can be very satisfying if you savor each bite, rather than just wolfing it down. Also, if you are constantly craving sweets, you are likely not eating the correct balance of protein, fats and carbohydrates for your metabolic type. If you tend to crave chocolate when you are upset, bored or lonely, then you could benefit from resolving these underlying emotional issues (and we all have them) that are driving you to seek comfort from chocolate.
Finding Flavonols Elsewhere
You can enjoy the benefits chocolate provides (via flavonols) by consuming fruits like apples and grapes and most all vegetables, including broccoli, greens and onions. Blueberries are the top-rated food by the USDA as far as antioxidant capacity is concerned. They have other chemicals like anthocyanins that are even more powerful than the polyphenols in cocoa in protecting against free-radical damage.
Unfortunately, blueberries and other berries have a relatively short growing season and are only available fresh for a few months at most throughout the year. You can purchase them frozen though in many of your local grocery stores.