Chocolate is a wonderful “melt in your mouth” treat
but, over the past few years it has also gained a reputation for being “heart healthy”.
But is it really?
Sounds almost too good to be true, doesn’t it?
The reason that chocolate has been thought to be heart healthy
is because of the flavanols that cocoa/cacao beans contain.
Flavanols are antioxidants
that have been shown to relax and dilate arteries.
This helps to reduce blood pressure.
Cocoa/cacao beans are high in flavanols.
They have a strong, pungent taste that comes from flavanols.
But the flavanol content of the raw cocoa beans is reduced
when raw cacao beans are made into chocolate.
So the more processed chocolate is, the lower the flavanols.
Cocoa powder is the least processed form of chocolate.
However, some cocoa powders are further processed (alkalized or “Dutched”)
to reduce the bitterness of the flavanols (e.g. Fry’s).
This kind of cocoa powder contains almost no flavanols.
Some cocoa powders are not further processed in this way.
These are called “natural” and contain significant flavanols.
In fact the Hershey’s natural cocoa powder shown here
states on their label that it contains 119 mg flavanols/Tbsp.
This is the only chocolate product that I found that stated its flavanol content.
It is well known that dark chocolate is considered more heart healthy than milk chocolate.
This is because it is higher in flavanols.
However, most commercial dark chocolate is highly processed
and how much flavanols a particular chocolate has, is often unknown.
Being labeled “dark” chocolate is no guarantee.
Even labeling a chocolate bar as having a certain “% cacao”
isn’t a reliable guide to the amount of flavanols.
You really can’t tell if the cocoa powder used was processed or “natural”.
So there are probably some dark chocolate bars out there that contain almost no flavanols.
However, some dark chocolate bars do contain flavanols.
The amount is just not on the label.
A recent analysis done for Nutrition Action Health Letter looked at three dark chocolate bars – Hershey’s Special Dark, Lindt Excellence 70% Cacao and Dove Promises Dark Chocolate. It found an average of 200 mg flavanols per 55 gram portion. Unfortunately, a 55 grams portion would not be considered heart healthy because it also provides 300 calories and half the saturated fat (which increases blood cholesterol) you should have in a day!
So what is your most heart healthy way to get the benefits of flavanols?
- Get your flavanols from apples, red grapes or tea. Treat yourself to chocolate just because you like it, don’t count on it for your flavanols.
- Use natural cocoa powder to make hot chocolate, or to stir into vanilla yogurt or even oatmeal.
- If you want to have a heart healthy portion of dark chocolate, have only 1 small square, the equivalent of 10 grams. Or perhaps dip strawberries in a small amount of melted dark chocolate. Enjoy!! Have a heart healthy Valentine’s Day!!