Interesting how chocolate is often associated with ‘love’ and ‘heart’ given its known benefit on the cardiovascular system . A review study just presented in Paris – a city that is renowned for its love of food and chocolate – showed that individuals who ate the most chocolate had a 37% lower risk of cardiovascular disease and a 29% lower risk of stroke compared with individuals who ate the least amount of chocolate.
It is the polyphenols in chocolate that give it its cardiovascular protective effect. Polyphenols are ringed organic structures linked together looking much like a chain linked fence. These particular polyphenols can help increase nitric oxide which helps improves blood flow. If cocoa grew in China 2000 years ago it would be in the herbal pharmacopeia under the “Blood Movers”. The Aztek Emporer Montezuma said about cocoa “divine drink, which builds up resistance and fights fatigue. A cup of this precious drink permits a man to walk for a whole day without food”. Good stuff.
Another physiological reactions from moderate cocoa consumption is that it boosts serotonin levels which are the feel good neurotransmitters. There are epidemiological studies demonstrating that people who eat the most chocolate are more depressed than people that eat less chocolate. This is because people that are melancholy may want a serotonin boost to feel better. However consuming a lot of cocoa can cause a spike in serotonin leading to a sedative effect and then a crash. So moderate amounts at best!
Although the aforementioned study did not differentiate between types of chocolate there needs to be some consideration of the type and quality of chocolate eaten. I do NOT suggest to my patients to get a Hersey’s milk chocolate bar! Lots of sugar and many people do have a loss of oral tolerance for proteins found in dairy. Plus conventional chocolate is reported to be an environmental nightmare because of the pesticides. If you buy organic at least you know that environmentally there was minimal impact and you are not getting any pesticide residues. Here is a list of chocolate buyers to consider and ones to avoid. However, organic chocolate has its share of human rights concerns as well. So if you are concerned about how people (children!) are treated then the best option for buying chocolate is organic and look for the “Fair Trade” label.
Here is a plug for Equal Exchange which is a local Co-op in Massachusetts. They do have delicious dark chocolate and I love the 80% Panama dark chocolate. If you have kids (or for the kid in you) here is a good M&M alternative, called Sun Drops.
Many of my patients feel guilty eating chocolate. Like it is sinful. I hear unnecessary confessions and often think they are awaiting penance…..”Ok you had some chocolate – so go eat 3 ounces of kale, 2 stalks of broccoli and a sauteed onion.” However the confession booth is unnecessary as there are many health benefits to eating a moderate amount of chocolate. So skip the guilt and get some good dark chocolate or even 100% cocoa chips that are Fair Trade and organic. Just don’t eat the whole thing at once!
Yours In Health,
George Mandler LDN LicAc