Like your chocolate dark? There's lots of evidence that it's very good for your health.
Cocoa naturally has flavonoids in it, which can give chocolate a bitter taste. To smooth the flavor, the flavonoids are often removed during the making of chocolate. Recent research, by Norman Hollenberg of Harvard Medical School, has shown that eating chocolate with the flavonoids intact can increase blood flow to the brain by 10 to 15%, with definite health benefits.
Hollenberg's research team has been studying the Kuna people who live on islands off the Caribbean coast of Panama. In the early 1990's, the team noticed that the Kuna have a lower incidence of high blood pressure than Americans, and lower risk of diseases associated with high blood pressure, such as heart attacks, diabetes, strokes and some kinds of dementia. They also found that the Kuna drink several cups of cocoa per day. Kuna cocoa is minimally processed, leaving large quantities of flavonoids in the cocoa. Kuna who moved off the island and drank cocoa without the flavonoids did not have the same health benefits.
Recently, Hollenberg conducted an experiment in the United States to look for a connection between the flavonoids and the low blood pressure. He gave one experimental group cups of cocoa with flavonoids every day, while the other group received cocoa without flavonoids. The group that drank the flavonoid-rich cocoa had 10 to 15% more blood flow to the brain, and less high blood pressure. The other group showed no changes in blood flow.
How can you as a consumer find flavonoids? Some chocolate-bar and cocoa manufacturers are make dark chocolate using a method that retains 95% of its flavonoids. The labels of dark chocolate bars will often say so. Dove Dark Chocolate bar is one example of flavonoid-rich chocolate that was used in a similar experiment at UC San Francisco with similar results, by Mary Engler, PhD, RN. (See the URL to the full online article below.)
When you choose chocolate bars, it pays to look for brands that advertise flavonoids. They may provide valuable health benefits.
Dark chocolate is better for the environment too, because dark chocolate is often made without dairy products, or with less. Dairies are among the biggest sources of nutrient pollution of surface waters and ground water in the U.S. A single dairy cow creates 120 pounds of waste per day! That's more than twice as much as a steer raised for beef, because beef cattle are slaughtered before full maturity.
But back to chocolate. Can't you get more and better flavonoids from other foods? Not really. Dr. Engler of the UC San Francisco study says that dark chocolate contains more flavonoids than any other food, including green tea, black tea, red wine, and blueberries.
While a little dark chocolate is good, a lot is not necessarily better. Chocolate still has a lot of calories. If you eat more chocolate than you have been eating, you'll need to cut out something else, or get more exercise. The key to heart health includes a balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, little saturated fat, and lots of activity.
1. Daniel J. DeNoon. WebMD Medical News. "A Dark Chocolate a Day Keeps the Doctor Away."
2. "Cocoa compound increases brain's blood flow." Science News. March 3, 2007.