The findings come from one of the largest epidemiological studies ever conducted in Europe. The study focused on the complex mechanism of inflammation. Chronic inflammation is a risk factor for the development of cardiovascular diseases ranging from myocardial infarction to stroke.
The study found that people having moderate amounts of dark chocolate regularly had significantly lower levels of C-reactive protein in their blood, which indicates that their inflammatory state was considerably reduced.
Those who ate dark chocolate regularly had a 17% average reduction in C-reactive protein -- enough to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease by one-third in women and one-fourth in men.
The findings apply to dark chocolate only. Milk chocolate does not have the same effect, since milk interferes with the absorption of polyphenols. Few foods evoke as much passion as chocolate. And for chocolate lovers, the idea of giving it up altogether, even if it means being healthier, is often not an option to consider. Well, this is one instance when you can have your chocolate and eat it too, because study after study is confirming that chocolate is actually very good for you.
But there are some ground rules.
First, ONLY dark chocolate is healthy. Not milk chocolate, not white chocolate and not any combination in between.
Dark chocolate contains flavonols, which have antioxidant properties that can help protect your body from damaging oxidative stress, and there’s evidence that consumption of dark chocolate can improve your:
The milk added to milk chocolate, meanwhile, interferes with your body’s ability to absorb the beneficial antioxidants in the chocolate (and for those who don’t know, white chocolate actually contains no cocoa at all, it’s just a health-zapping mix of pasteurized milk and sugar).
Epicatechin, a compound found in unrefined cocoa, is another one of the powerhouse compounds that makes dark chocolate good for you, according to Norman Hollenberg, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, who has spent years studying the effects of routine cocoa drinking on the Kuna people of Panama. The Kuna, who drink up to 40 cups of cocoa a week, have a less than 10 percent risk of stroke, heart failure, cancer and diabetes.
Unfortunately, epicatechin is removed from commercial cocoas because it tends to have a bitter taste.
How to Use Chocolate as a Health Tool
Chocolate is a perfect example of when less is more. Researchers found that eating a precise amount of chocolate -- 6.7 grams a day -- will give you the best health benefits. Eat any more than this and the beneficial effects will diminish and even disappear.
6.7 grams of chocolate amounts to one small square of chocolate two or three times a week, so we’re talking about a very moderate amount here if you’re using chocolate for health purposes.
Keep in mind, too, that chocolate really needs to be high quality and minimally processed to be healthy. Look for varieties that use the least destructive processing techniques and preserve the highest levels of the beneficial polyphenolic bioflavanoids that are naturally present in cocoa.
Generally speaking, dark, organic chocolate contains the most flavonols, but the best choice would be raw cacao, which is relatively bitter because it doesn’t have sugar in it.
If you opt for most commercial, processed chocolate (much of which has added soybean oils, sugar and other unsavory ingredients), don’t expect it to be healthy. In fact, some processed chocolate can be contaminated with extremely high quantities of lead, which is something to consider when you’re deciding what to hand out this year for Halloween.
Finally, if you are struggling with serious disease of any kind (diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, cancer, etc.) you should hold off on eating chocolate, as most all of it contains a lot of sugar, and sugar depresses your immune system.
For those of you who have chocolate cravings that feel out of control, you’re most likely not eating the correct balance of protein, fats, and carbohydrates for your nutritional type. And once you get most of the sugar out of your diet your desire for commercially made sweets, including chocolate, will change dramatically.
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.