Health benefits

Antioxidant properties

The table below shows the main foods with antioxidant properties and their antioxidant properties per 100g. One can clearly see that dark chocolate is the food with the highest antioxidant capacity.


ANTIOXIDANT PROPERTIES
  ORAC Units /100 g   ORAC Units /100 g   ORAC Units /100 g
Dark chocolate 13210 Blackberries 2036 Brussel sprouts 980
Milk chocolate 6740 Savoy cabbage 1770 Fresh plums 930
Prunes 5770 Strawberries 1540 Brussel sprouts 849
Raisins 2883 Spinach 1260 Broccoli 890
Blueberries 2400 Raspberries 1220    

Chocolate is good for the heart, it improves blood circulation

Chocolate should form part of a healthy diet, according to Carl Keen, professor of nutrition at the University of California-Davis. Researchers in a scientific conference put forward the results of a preliminary study: that the consumption of chocolate had a positive impact on cardiovascular health.

Keen states that chocolate seems to improve blood circulation and the working of platelets in the same way as aspirin, but without achieving the same marvelous effects on the health. Its properties are important for a correct cardiovascular activity due to the high level of flavonoids (natural compounds found in plants that inhibit platelet activity, improving the blood flow). We should take into account, however, that white chocolate does not seem to possess these apparently beneficial effects on the heart, given that flavonoids are only found in cocoa solids and not in cocoa butter.

Chocolate is good for the heart, it has an antioxidant effect

Another study carried out by Cesar Fraga, of the University of Buenos Aires, examined the antioxidant effects of procyanidins that are naturally present in chocolate. The researchers found that chocolate produces an increase in the absorption of some procyanidins, as well as an increase in the blood’s antioxidant capacity, which could help to slow the progression of heart diseases.

In the United States, Dr. Penny Kris-Etherton and her team of scientists published a study on the Effects of cocoa powder and dark chocolate on LDL oxidative susceptibility and prostaglandin concentrations in humans in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which shows that: "Incorporating dark chocolate and cocoa powder into the diet is a way of effectively increasing the intake of antioxidants. Furthermore, if these foods are added to a diet rich in other sources of antioxidants such as fruit, vegetables, tea and wine, the result will be a rich daily intake of antioxidants that could reduce the risk of heart diseases.

Chocolate is good for the heart, it improves blood pressure and resistance to insulin

A study carried out by the High Blood Pressure and Cardiovascular Prevention Centre of the University of L'Aquila (Italy) observed that the flavanoids in dark chocolate can improve blood pressure and resistance to insulin. High-blood pressure patients were studied: they ingested 100g of dark chocolate in their daily diet over 15 days and their systolic blood pressure dropped between 7.7 and 11.9 mm/Hg and diastolic pressure dropped between 5.0 and 8.5 mm/Hg. However, when they ingested the same amount of calories in white chocolate, which does not contain flavonoids, over the same period, no changes in blood pressure were noted. The same effects were also observed in healthy subjects.

In the same study, it was observed that other positive health effects were produced, such as the reduction of cholesterol levels, of LDL ("bad" cholesterol) and resistance to insulin: insulin works in a more suitable manner, delaying signs of diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure (C. Ferri et al). 2005).

Cocoa butter,does not increase cholesterol

If chocolate is a food rich in cocoa butter, which is a fat, how can it have such a beneficial effect on the heart? In general, saturated fatty acids increase cholesterol content in blood plasma twice as much as polyunsaturates (such as oleic or linoleic acid) reduce it, whilst monounsaturated fatty acids seem to have a neutral effect (Keys, 1970). However, stearic acid is a unique exception given that it is a long-chain saturated fatty acid and does not increase cholesterol content in the blood (Bonanome and Grundy, 1988; Kris- Etherton, et al., 1993), which is how long-chain saturated fatty acids such as lauric, myristic and palmitic acid generally behave (Keys et al., 1965; Hegsted et al., 1965).

In fact, in the predictive equations developed to estimate the cholesterol in plasma as a result of saturated and unsaturated fatty acid ingestion, the authors (Hegsted et al. 1965) state that the equations "do not work" when it comes to stearic acid, that is, when these same equations are used to estimate the cholesterol in blood in diets high in stearic acid (such as, for example, cocoa butter). Therefore, stearic acid shows a "neutral" effect (like oleic acid) in terms of the cholesterol level in blood plasma.

In studies carried out in the Pennsylvania State University by Mitchell et al. (1987) and Kris-Etherton and collaborators (1990 and 1991) on the effect that diets rich in various types of fat have on the lipid and lipoprotein levels in the plasma of young men, it was found that diets rich in cocoa butter (in which 11 % of calories came from stearic acid) had a neutral effect, whilst the diet rich in butter was hypercholesterolemic and those diets based around soya and olive oils were hypercholesterolemic, even though butter and cocoa butter have similar saturated fatty acid content (approx. 21% of total calories), cocoa butter contains a high proportion of stearic acid.

Functional food: chocolate = medicine?

The use of chocolate as a medicine is not a new concept, according to researcher Louis Grivetti of the University of California-Davis, since this popular food was initially used by the first settlers and by the first doctors to regenerate tissue or to increase the weight of patients suffering from excessive weightloss. This was also prescribed for a great number of illnesses from apathy to poor digestion.

In this way, we can see that after the recent discovery of such properties in cocoa, the findings of scientific studies being carried out all over the world are reaffirming what the first discoverers of chocolate professed, that it is a beneficial food. After all, Linneo did name the cocoa tree Theobroma cacao - THE FOOD OF THE GODS.

Healthy diet

Different authors (C. Keen, C.Ferri, etc.) highlight that, even though the daily consumption of chocolate and cocoa derivatives that contain flavonoids is beneficial, this should not be done increasing calorie intake, nor reducing the consumption of other foods that are essential for good health such as fruit and vegetables.

In conclusion, chocolate should form part of a healthy, balanced diet, without disobeying the undisputable principle that an appropriate total calorie content should be observed in order to avoid excess weight, together with daily exercise that helps the resistance of our organism. Though these good habits may not help us to age any less, they will undoubtedly help us to face the passing of time with more vitality and to therefore have a better quality of life in all these phases.