We love chocolate because it tastes great and it’s also good for our health.
Rejoice, chocolate lovers: more findings suggest that regular consumption of this delicious stuff may decrease the risk of heart disease and stroke in otherwise healthy individuals. (Kwok CS, et al. Habitual chocolate consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease among healthy men and women. Heart 2015; DOI:10).
In a systematic review of nine studies and 157,809 participants, with the longest study lasting up to 11.9 years, the participants who consumed the highest amount of chocolate, up to 99g/day had the lowest incidence of stroke, cardiovascular disease, hospital admissions and loss of life, with decreases of up to 33%.
Interestingly, the non–chocolate-eating group had the highest weight, mean body-mass index, highest percentage of participants with diabetes, and highest levels of inactivity. On the other hand, "higher chocolate intake was associated with a higher energy intake, lower contributions from protein and alcohol sources and higher contributions from fat" wrote the investigators.
More results indicate a beneficial effect of dark chocolate on improving insulin sensitivity, and possibly on preventing or delaying the onset of diabetes. (Grace Farhat. Dark chocolate rich in polyphenols improves insulin sensitivity in the adult non-diabetic population. Endocrine Abstracts (2014) 34 P2060).
Chocolate decreases blood pressure by an average 6 m Hg and bad cholesterol by up to 5%. (Allen RR, et al. Daily consumption of a dark chocolate containing flavanols and added sterol esters affects cardiovascular risk factors in a normotensive population with elevated cholesterol. J Nutrition. April 2008).
The yummy stuff also improves memory in the elderly. (Sorond FA , et al. Neurovascular coupling, cerebral white matter integrity, and response to cocoa in older people. Neurology 10.1212/ WNL.0b013e3182a351aa). Of course it also helps healthy young people to improve visual-spatial memory and organization (the ability to understand and remember spatial relations among objects), working memory (the ability to process new and existing information), verbal memory (the ability to remember words and other factors related to language) and scanning and tracking (the ability to focus on specific objects).
Good news for expectant mothers: eating 30 grams of chocolate every day during pregnancy might benefit fetal growth and development. This is the conclusion of a study presented at the 2016 Pregnancy Meeting of the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine in Atlanta, GA.
What about athletes? Chronic supplementation with dark chocolate resulted in enhanced performance. Consequently, ingestion of chocolate reduced the oxygen cost of moderate intensity exercise and may be an effective aid for short-duration moderate intensity exercise. (Patel RK et al. Dark chocolate supplementation reduces the oxygen cost of moderate intensity cycling. J. of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2015).
Not all chocolate is created equal, however. Dark chocolate gets all the good publicity, because it has relatively lower added sugar and fats than milk chocolate. Researchers sent three types of cocoa powder thru the lab-rigged digestive path: lightly processed, moderately processed and Dutch-processed. The more mildly treated the cocoa powder, the more it retained its beneficial compounds in these experiments.
Do not forget our gut microbiota. With its high levels of polyphenols, cocoa might also be good for the gut itself. Consuming cocoa actually stimulates the production of healthier microbes in the colon. Additionally, the microbes broke down the undigested fiber in the cocoa, creating usable, cancer fighting short-chained fatty acids, such as butyric, propionic and acetic acids. (K.H.Courage. Why Is Dark Chocolate Good for You? Thank Your Microbes. Scientific American.March 19, 1924).
Of course you can savor it with coffee for more benefits (see my previous blog about the benefits of coffee).
And what about enjoying it with berries and red wine. A group of researchers conducted a randomized control trial and found that increasing intake of polyphenol-rich foods, in the form of fruit and vegetables (including berries) and dark chocolate, for 8 weeks resulted in a significant improvement in endothelium-dependent vasodilation in hypertensive participants. In simple words, they improved health of the vessels and improved blood pressure control. (Noad RL et al, Beneficial effect of a polyphenol-rich diet on cardiovascular risk: a randomized control trial. Heart 2016;102:1371-1379).
Another study showed that alcohol at a dose up to 30g/day alone has some positive effects, as did dealcoholized red wine, but the most benefit was found with regular red wine. While the polyphenol content of red wine seemed to reduce dangerous molecules, both alcohol and the polyphenols appeared to improve inflammation and were protective to the heart. (Chiva-Blanch G, et al. Differential effects of polyphenols and alcohol of red wine on the expression of adhesion molecules and inflammatory cytokines related to atherosclerosis: A randomized clinical trial.Am J Clin Nutr 2012; 95:326-334).
For more information on the benefits of a healthy diet, please make an appointment with Dr. Koganski at 215-750-7000, www.newtowninternalmedicine.com.