Why it’s okay to have some chocolate

Dear Dr. Mo: I’d like to know if there are any health benefits we can derive from eating chocolate?

chocolateDear reader: Having a sweet tooth myself, I very much understand your concern and in the context of health, I am happy to say – Yes!

I have already written in some detail about health benefits of chocolate so be sure to check it out.

Let me recap it here and add some fresh findings to support it.

Just recently, certain compounds in chocolate, called cocoa flavanols, have been linked with improved cognitive abilities, especially in aging individuals. It appears that regular flavanols consumption can turn a tide on some age-related thinking dysfunctions.

This conclusion comes out of a recent Italian study, published online in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

They tested the effects of cocoa flavanols in 90 healthy 61-85 year-olds with cognitive abilities in good shape for their age although a similar but less recent study by the same researchers showed improvements in memories and thinking skills in older individuals who did have some (mild) cognitive impairment.

Both studies also found association between cocoa flavanols and reduced blood pressure and insulin resistance.

Flavanols revealed

Flavanols are plant nutrients (phyto-nutrients) found in foods and drinks such as tea, red wine, blueberries, cherries, apples, pears, peanuts and of course – cocoa. These nutrients have been shown to help lower blood pressure, improve blood flow to the brain and heart, prevent blood clots, fight inflammatory and toxic cell damage, have anti-viral properties etc. They are the main reason behind green tea’s powerful health properties.

Getting enough

Unlike the conditions in the study, where participants ingested relatively high amounts of cocoa flavanols, chocolates we usually eat contain far less and in some cases, the flavanols are being completely destroyed in the production of chocolate.

Dark chocolate typically has more cocoa and more flavanols than milk chocolate so read the labels carefully to look for richer cocoa and flavanols content.

In terms of getting your flavanols, this does not look as hopeless as it may seem, as you may not need a large dose of it to gain health benefits after all.

Dr. Alonso-Alonso a neuroscientist with a strong interest in nutrition at Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center who wrote an editorial supporting the findings of the Italian study says: “The benefits of cocoa flavanols on cardiovascular health are well established, and for the general population a daily intake of 200 mg of cocoa flavanols is starting to emerge as a potential target within the context of a balanced diet.”

200mg should be within reach of any good quality dark chocolate, per 100g.

Be mindful though – I am not giving you a blank check on chocolate – it still packs a punch when it comes to calorie content so adding it to your diet must result in taking out certain quantities of other foods to balance it out! Otherwise, the subsequent gain in weight will offset any potential health benefit of cocoa flavanols.

Also, try adding green tea to your daily routine as well as a bit of red wine and other niceties rich in flavanols.

Enjoy!

Yours in health,

Dr. Mo