Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Don’t Bar Chocolate from a Healthy Diet

August 1, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 


Would you eat a food item said to preserve your heart, enhance recall, and quicken reaction time, no matter the taste? If you’re hesitant, I can sweeten the pot — the food is chocolate.

Once it was discovered that chocolate contains plant nutrients called flavonoids, it was a quick jump (by those outside the medical profession) to proclaim eating it will make us all healthier. While chocolate is not a single, all-powerful super food making us smarter and fitter, it does have health benefits.

Flavonoids in plants prevent harm from environmental toxins and help repair damage. Thus, eating these plant compounds offer us similar protection against stressors threatening our cells (and even our DNA). Antioxidants protect against free radical damage, and studies have shown that there are protective brain qualities in chocolate, which may keep us adaptive and quicken our reaction time.

According to Mitchell Zandes, MS, RD, CSCS, NSCA-CPT, a registered dietitian, “Flavonoids are the component of cocoa that has received a significant amount of attention in nutrition research. There are several proposed effects of flavonoids in the body. Those identified in cocoa are most well known for their role in preserving cardiovascular health.”

Chocolate and cocoa, when used in a health-centered discussion, include dark chocolate, cacao nibs, and natural unsweetened cocoa powder.

Studies in humans have shown that cocoa can slightly reduce blood pressure by helping the blood vessels relax. Per Zandes, “This occurs through a few different mechanisms. Basically, the cocoa is thought to enhance the production of nitric oxide and inhibit the production of angiotensin in the kidneys (nitric oxide facilitates blood flow, angiotensin restricts it). Cocoa may also reduce the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, which would provide resistance against plaque formation in arteries.”

While chocolate hasn’t been scientifically proven as strong enough to treat hypertension without a change in lifestyle and possible addition of medication, Zandes notes that chocolate “could potentially serve as one piece of a comprehensive prevention or treatment protocol.”

In addition, Zandes looks forward to research into other proposed potential benefits of cocoa, “including prevention of cancer, neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, and type II diabetes — areas I now feel have insufficient evidence to make specific claims or recommendations.”

Stores showcase a large variety of chocolates, but Zandes advises, “The benefits of eating chocolate are specific to foods with high amounts of cocoa. Items with milk chocolate or white chocolate can provide pleasure from taste, however, they are an overall poor source of nutrients.”

When it comes to choosing chocolate for wellness, read labels. “Consumers should look for dark chocolate with a minimum of 72 percent cocoa. Food items with higher percentages such as 85, 90, or 100 percent will provide a greater amount of flavonoids, but these options tend to have a bitter taste and are generally less palatable,” Zandes explains. “If health benefits are the goal of eating chocolate, I would avoid any bar that does not disclose the percent of cocoa. These likely have less than optimal flavonoids.”

As cocoa is a plant, flavonoid content may vary due to ripeness at time of harvest, soil conditions, storage conditions, and processing. Zandes advises against purchasing chocolate items treated with alkalizing agents meant to darken color and reduce bitterness as this “Dutch process” decreases flavonoid content.

Consumers can seek guidance from https://www.consumerlab.com/  and https://labdoor.com/, says Zandes.  “These websites have independently tested various brands of dark chocolate and compare the content of the product to what is written on the label.”

If chocolate or cocoa were a prescribed treatment, the recommendation would be to consume 200 milligrams of flavonoids per day. “Since few products will have this information, consumers should follow the serving size on the nutrition facts label. This is generally 40 grams or one-and-a-half ounces,” says Zandes.

Some people dislike high-cocoa-content chocolate. Zandes, who is also a certified strength and conditioning specialist, says they can still get on the wellness track. “Dark chocolate with less than 72 percent cocoa will still have flavonoids, but as a general rule, as percentage decreases, flavonoids are reduced and added sugars increase.”

Before we get too excited about incorporating chocolate into our wellness regimes, Zandes cautions us to stay realistic. “Cocoa can serve a small role in health. Daily consumption is unlikely to be beneficial without an adequate amount of other plant foods from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. As chocolate is a high calorie, high fat food, at some point the risk of overeating will outweigh any health benefits.

“The specific flavonoids in cocoa are also found in green tea, wine, grapes, apples, berries, and beans, so if you want to obtain benefits of cocoa, you give yourself the best chance by consuming a combination of these foods daily.”

For more information: www.instagram.com/fit_by_mitch/.

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Articles on potential heart and brain benefits of chocolate

https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/16774-heart-healthy-benefits-of-chocolate

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/your-brain-on-chocolate-2017081612179

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