Link between chocolate and heart health
In general, chocolate is often said to be good for blood flow, which is beneficial for heart health. Cleveland Clinic nutritionist Mira Ilic explains below why not all chocolate is equally healthy for the heart and which chocolate best supports heart health.
What are flavonoids?
Cocoa beans contain healthy flavonoids, which are also the reason chocolate is so healthy for the human heart. Flavonoids are so-called antioxidants that fight cell-damaging free radicals in the body, the expert explains.
Why are flavonoids healthy for the heart?
Flavonoids support human heart health by:
Controlling cholesterol levels,
lowering blood pressure,
reduced risk of blood clots,
Inhibiting sticky platelets,
improving blood flow to vital organs.
That is why dark chocolate is so healthy
The nutritionist explains that dark chocolate is the healthiest because it is the least processed chocolate. This, she says, means that dark chocolate contains the highest percentage of cocoa beans (cacao) with flavonoids. Not all forms of food containing chocolate, such as chocolate bars or chocolate cake, contain high levels of flavanols, Ilic points out.
Processing leads to fewer flavanols
Cocoa naturally has a very strong flavor, which comes from the flavanols (a special group of flavonoids) it contains. When cocoa is processed into chocolate products, it goes through several steps to reduce this flavor. The more chocolate is processed, for example by fermentation, alkalization, roasting, the more of the flavanols are lost.
How much cocoa must dark chocolate contain?
Dark chocolate has a cocoa content of at least 35 percent. The rest of the chocolate is cocoa butter (the natural fat of the cocoa bean), sugar, emulsifiers (which hold the ingredients together) and vanilla or other flavorings. Adding milk can soften the texture of the chocolate, the nutritionist explains.
What to look for when consuming chocolate?
The darker the chocolate, the healthier it is, says Ilic. Therefore, he said, the rule is:
People should prefer chocolate with the highest content of cocoa (70 percent to 85 percent),
fillings in chocolate should be avoided, unless they are nuts, dried or fresh fruit,
only small portions (less than 30 grams) of chocolate should be consumed per day, and calorie intake should be reduced elsewhere, if necessary, to prevent weight gain,
Recommendations for the general consumption of chocolate
Chocolate should only be consumed in limited quantities. In general, milk chocolate contains more sugar and fat than dark chocolate. In addition, to know exactly what is in chocolate, looking at the ingredient list on the package can help, Ilic said in a Cleveland Clinic news release.
Cocoa content of chocolate should be above 70 percent
Chocolate is healthiest when it contains more than 70 percent cocoa. Nevertheless, even such chocolate should be consumed only in small quantities, because already 100 g of dark chocolate contain 500 calories, the expert emphasizes.