Discover the Sweetest Way to Cardiovascular Health
Every once in a while there’s some news that turns conventional medical wisdom on its ear. Case in point: recent studies have shown that dark chocolate is actually beneficial to your health. What’s next? Eat all the ice cream you want?
You heard right. Chocolate. Small amounts of dark chocolate – one or two ounces per serving, according to the experts – have been shown to promote cardiovascular health. Turns out certain bacteria in your gut thrive on dark chocolate. They break it down and ferment it into beneficial anti-inflammatory compounds. These are the same compounds that lessen the inflammation of cardiovascular tissue.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. First let me emphasize that these health benefits apply only to solid, dark chocolate or raw chocolate. Forget about milk chocolate, chocolate bars, rum-filled dark chocolate balls, and the like. Don’t assume those highly-processed forms of chocolate will help your heart. They can’t because all the good stuff has been processed out of them.
Unlocking the Anti-Inflammatory Benefits of Dark Chocolate
Scientists have known for a while about the antioxidants found in cocoa powder. This is a substance made from husked, roasted, and ground cacao seeds, also known as cocoa beans. This cocoa powder contains powerful antioxidants called polyphenols. But it was believed that these molecules were not digested well because they’re so large.
Now researchers have found that a type of bacteria in your gut actually does break down these powerful antioxidants into anti-inflammatory compounds. Turns out these microbes and lactic acid bacteria love to eat dark chocolate just as much as you do.
This helps to explain why dark chocolate has been shown to be so good for your heart. The anti-inflammatory compounds help reduce cardiovascular inflammation.
The other good news is that studies have shown that dark chocolate helps promote gut health. How? By feeding beneficial bacteria instead of the harmful kind. It actually acts as a probiotic that promotes a healthy gut.
More Dark Chocolate Health Benefits
Besides antioxidants, chocolate has other powerful compounds in its mix. These include anandamide, a brain neurotransmitter that helps block feelings of anxiety and pain. Another benefit of chocolate is the caffeine, which produces higher levels of mental alertness and energy.
Following are some of the recently proven benefits of the cocoa bean and its cocoa powder by-product, dark chocolate:
- Improves gut health
- Lowers blood pressure
- Lowers stress hormones
- Lowers risk of Alzheimer’s
How to Choose the Right Dark Chocolate
A recent study showed there are vast differences in the quality of dark chocolate. No surprise there. Some tested brands had high antioxidant levels and others did not.
Generally speaking, the darker the chocolate the higher the cacao content. And remember, the benefits are in the cacao, from which the chocolate is made. The problem is that cacao is bitter. So, the higher the cacao content, the more bitter the taste of the chocolate.
It’s the antioxidants in the cacao that make the chocolate bitter. So the manufacturers will often remove them. But, it’s the antioxidants that provide many of the health benefits of chocolate. To offset the bitterness, most kinds of chocolate are sweetened. The challenge is trying to get as much of the health benefits as possible, while making the chocolate edible. Make sure you read the labels carefully to get the biggest bang for your buck.
You should also assess each type of chocolate for the following:
- What type of sweetener? Pay attention to the kind of sugar or sweetener each choice contains. Natural, traditional sweeteners such as honey or organic cane sugar are healthy choices. What you definitely don’t want are products sweetened with high fructose corn syrup or, worse yet, artificial sweeteners.
- Genetically engineered cocoa beans? Choose chocolate that is certified GMO-free or organic. Unfortunately, some of the chocolate on the market today, even dark chocolate, has been genetically engineered. Although the health impacts of GMO aren’t known, one thing is for certain: they are developed for corporate profit and not for your health. So to be safe, choose GMO-free products.
- What kind of fat? Fat in chocolate is a good thing, provided it’s the right kind of fat. It slows down your body’s sugar absorption, which reduces your insulin spike. The best kind of fat in your dark chocolate is cocoa butter – the same fat that occurs in the cocoa plant itself. The main fatty acid found in cocoa butter is stearic acid. This is the only saturated fat that does not adversely affect LDL, and favorably affects HDL. In other words, cocoa butter is good for your cholesterol levels. The next best choice is coconut oil. Avoid vegetable oils, like soybean oil, and trans fats.
Make Sensible Choices
When it comes to picking the chocolate that’s best for your cardiovascular health, it pays to check the ingredients carefully. There are hundreds of brands of chocolate on the market. Unfortunately, not all of them support good health goals. Many manufacturers add unnecessary and downright unhealthy ingredients as filler or to make it taste better so you’ll buy more.
But still, it’s worth the effort to look at the ingredients and find the dark chocolate that’s going to benefit your health.