Will a chocolate bar a day keep heart attacks away?
The candy industry keeps trying to convince us that chocolate is a health food by sponsoring and publicizing studies. One of the latest, in the medical journal Hypertension (July, 2005), shows that eating dark chocolate lowers high blood pressure. Jeffrey B. Blumberg, a professor of nutrition at Tufts University, gave 3.5 ounces of dark chocolate per day for 15 days to 20 people with high blood pressure. Their systolic blood pressure dropped by an average of 11mm.
Researchers at the University of California at Davis reviewed a number of recent studies on chocolate and its health benefits (The Journal of the American Dietetic Association, February 2003.) They found that flavan-3-ols, the main flavonoids found in cocoa, are associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease.
The article goes on to say that cocoa contains the same nutrients found in other plant foods, including minerals and specific antioxidants that help ward off diseases such as heart disease. In addition, oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat also found in olive oil, makes up one-third of the fat in chocolate and has been shown to be beneficial for heart health.
Europeans living in the 17th century also believed in chocolate’s healing powers. They said it “comforted the liver, aided in digestion and made one happy and strong.” Chocolate was used for stimulating the kidneys and treating anemia, tuberculosis, fever and gout; and was reported to strengthen the heart and relieve heart pain.
Cocoa beans are loaded with flavonoids, the antioxidants found in all fruits, vegetables whole grains, beans and other seeds, and antioxidants do lower blood pressure. However, dark chocolate by itself is bitter, so candy makers add lots of sugar and fat to make it taste good.
Sugar raises blood sugar to damage cells in diabetics, and one third of Americans are or will become diabetic. Fat is a dense source of calories that makes fat people fatter. So the old adage: “If it tastes good, it must be bad.” still holds for most of us. Chocolate tastes good because of the added sugar and fat.