Dark chocolate: Bitter sweet

Chocolate collage

Chocolate, a delight to receive or to give.

Yes, who doesn’t like chocolate? Everyone, irrespective of age, would like to share the chocolate, the sweet of love, with their loving hearts! Do you know that millions and millions pounds of chocolates are purchased and consumed during valentines’ week!

Eating chocolate is an enjoyable and memorable experience.

It’s not just the valentines’ day, every other happy occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, Mothers’ day, Fathers’ day, business get together are celebrated with chocolates, to strengthen the relationship. Chocolate is the major ingredient of wide varieties of desserts like ice creams, cakes, pastries, pies, and puddings.

Serving chocolates during special occassions, is believed to strengthen the relationship especially with parents and friends! It is even believed that offering chocolate milk to the visitor ensures a strong bond!

What is chocolates’ relationship with your health?

In olden days, cocoa has been considered for its health benefits like – improved heart, kidney & bowel function, and stimulation of nervous system. But from 19th century onwards, chocolate has become a luxury and its consumption is associated with dental caries, obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes. A Mass-Transit from Pleasure to Agony!  Chocolate is commercially processed   with cocoa powder and few other ingredients like milk, sugar, nuts, and fats. Ultimately, there were warnings about the potential health hazards of the consumption of this wonderful chocolate. Since then, until the recent research on “beneficial cardiovascular effects of cocoa polyphenols,” chocolate has been regarded as an unhealthy sweet!

You may be wondering if chocolate, good or bad?

Of course, it is good, if the chocolate is dark.

Why Chocolate – Dark?

Dark chocolate is rich in cocoa powder with a higher flavonoids content that improves insulin resistance and sensitivity. The amount of flavonoids found in natural product “cocoa” and the processed product “chocolate”  makes the huge difference between the dark and milk chocolate.

chocolate dark

Flavonoids, a class of polyphenols,  found ubiquitously in plant foods, have the cardio-protective effects, for their ability to scavenge free radicals and inhibit fat oxidation. Catechin, a flavonoid, known to improve hypertension, from chocolate is more bio-available than from its other sources like green tea, apple, apricot, berries, raisins, red wine, barley and broad beans.

Dark chocolate is less processed and hence its flavonoids are retained that help lower the blood pressure and cholesterol. The higher the percentage of dark chocolate, higher the amount of flavonoids the chocolate has!

Cocoa bean is fermented, dried and roasted to bring out  the intensive chocolate flavor and color.  When cocoa beans are ground, chocolate liquor is produced, that is about 50% chocolate butter. The liquor is further pressed to remove the cocoa butter, leaving a low-fat cocoa solid, called cocoa powder.  This natural cocoa powder is rich in  flavonoids.  Chocolate bars have different amount of cocoa powder and hence different in flavonoids strength

  • While shopping for chocolate, choose 70% or higher cocoa content with cocoa butter and less sugar. 70% or more cocoa concentration will improve vascular functions and plasma antioxidant status. Chocolate with 90% and above cocoa, a real bitter sweet, has more health-boosting flavonoids than lighter chocolates.
  • Cocoa butter, a fat from cocoa bean is found predominantly in dark chocolate that contributes the flavor release of the chocolate. Cocoa butter contains stearic acid, a saturated fat that has neutral effect on total, LDL, or HDL cholesterol .
  • A 30g, 70% dark chocolate, still has 160 calories and 12g (7g saturated fat) of fat. So, it is wise not to eat too much!

Milk chocolate is made by combining milk solids with sweetener and flavorings and only 12-25% with cocoa content. The sugar, milk and other ingredients like processed fats, palm oils that is added to the cocoa powder eventually increases the caloric load of commercially available chocolate and also reduces the health benefits of the natural cocoa powder. Lesser the amount of cocoa powder, lesser the flavonoids available!  White chocolate has cocoa butter but no cocoa powder.

Dark chocolate is 70% or more cocoa while a standard milk chocolate is 25% or less cocoa.

Having dark chocolate (20-30 g) once or twice a week will reduce the risk of developing heart failure by a third. A new research have found an  improved cognitive function in elderly people who consumed powdered cocoa drinks, daily. The cocoa beverage  increases cerebral blood flow up to 3 hours.

A balanced diet and regular physical activity is the key for a healthy heart. Flavonoids rich foods, like grapes, apples, blueberries, green tea, broccoli, together with dark chocolate aids in cardiovascular health and much better mental functions & skills.

Aviary Photo_130298303425323766

References

  • Cesar G Fraga. Cocoa, diabetes, and hypertension: should we eat more chocolate. Am J Clin Nutr March 2005 vol. 81 no. 3 541-542
  • Janice F Wang, Derek D Schramm, Roberta R Holt, Jodi L Ensunsa, Ceesar G Fraga, Harold H Schmitz, and Carl L Keen. A Dose-Response effect from chocolate consumption on plasma epicatechin and oxidative damage. J. Nutr. August 1, 2000 vol. 130 no. 8 21155-21195
  • Andreas J Flammer MD, Frank Hermann MD, Isabella Sudano MD PhD, Lukas Spieker MD, Matthias Hermann MD, Karen A Cooper Msc PhD, Mauro Serafini PhD, Thomas F Luscher MD, Frank Ruschitzka MD, Georg Noll MD, Roberto Corti MD. Coronary Heart Disease-Dark Chocolate improves coronary vasomotion and reduces platelet reactivity. Circulation.2007; 116: 2376-2382 Published online before print November 5, 2007,doi: 10.1161/​CIRCULATIONAHA.107.713867
  • Roberto Corti MD, Andreas J Flammer MD, Norman K Hollenberg MD PhD, Thomas F Luscher MD. Contemporary Reviews in Cardiovascular Medicine: Cocoa and Cardiovascular Health Circulation. 2009;119:1433-1441 doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.108.827022
  • LB Sørensen and A Astrup. Eating dark and milk chocolate: a randomized crossover study of effects on appetite and energy intake.
    Nutrition and Diabetes (2011) 1, e21; doi:10.1038/nutd.2011.17; published online 5 December 2011
  • Eha Nurk, Helga Refsum, Christian A Drevon, Grethe S Tell, Harald A Nygaard, Knut Engedal, and A David Smith. Intake of Flavonoid-Rich Wine, Tea, and Chocolate by Elderly Men and Women is Associated with Better Cognitive Test Performance. First published December 3, 2008, doi: 10.3945/​jn.108.095182J. Nutr. January 2009 vol. 139 no. 1 120-127
  • www.heart.org
  • http://www.lindt.ca/swf/eng/products/bars/dark-chocolate/excellence-70-cacao/
  • http://www.hersheys.com/pure-products/details.aspx?id=3480&name=HERSHEYS+Milk+Chocolate+Bar
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