Chocolate Benefits: Lower Your Risk Of Heart Disease

Good news for chocolate lovers!

Satisfying that rich, chocolatey craving may also be protecting your heart, according to a study published in the journal ‘Archives of Internal Medicine.’ The study found that “frequent” chocolate consumers (defined as either 1 to 6 servings per week or greater than 7) had less of a risk of hospitalization or death due to heart disease or heart failure compared to those who were “rare” consumers (less than 1 weekly serving) over a 10 year period.

The Australian study, published last month, examined the chocolate consumption habits of 1,216 women over 70 and compared it to their heart health status. Chocolate eaters who ate it at least once per week were 35 per cent less likely to be hospitalized or die from heart disease over the course of the study, and almost 60 per cent less likely to be hospitalized or die from heart failure.

The researchers emphasized that the subjects didn’t need to be eating a lot of chocolate in order to see benefits. It’s not recommended to eat something with a lot of sugar regularly, assuming it is delivering benefits. “[We] believe our findings support moderate rather than frequent chocolate consumption,” Dr. Joshua Lewis of Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in Australia told Reuters.

This is one of a number of recent studies that have been touting the benefits of chocolate consumption. There is a wealth of studies out there showing the potential chocolate has to contribute to health and healing. But be warned — not all chocolate is created equal.

What follows is a quick guide to choosing the healthiest chocolate:

Quality counts — We’re not talking about candy bars here. The sugar in junky chocolate will override any beneficial flavonols (the active ingredient in chocolate that makes it so healthy), assuming there’s even any still in there. Some of the “chocolate” out there is nothing but waxy fillers, chocolate flavoring and enough sugar to turn a horse diabetic. The ingredients you want in your chocolate are cocoa (cocoa mass) and cocoa butter. Everything else in there is getting away from that health-delivering aspect. It’s kind of a necessary evil that chocolate is going to have a sweetener, so try to find a raw cane sugar since it’s going to be better than just plain sugar. Other ingredients are filler.

It’s Delicious, But Where Did It Come From? — Look for the origins of the chocolate. Avoid stuff from China like the plague. Most of the stuff from the US is garbage processed food and shouldn’t really be called chocolate (I had a heck of a time trying to actually melt a Hershey’s chocolate bar on an open fire over the summer. Chocolate should melt at body temperature. If it doesn’t melt, it’s not chocolate). European stuff can be quite good as it is inevitably higher quality than the stuff produced in North America. But I’m quite partial to the free trade organic varieties coming out of South America at the moment. They’re generally more focused on the health aspect of chocolate rather than designer chocolates coming from Europe which are more focused on aesthetics.

Go Dark or Go Home — Milk chocolate has far less of the beneficial flavanols. The darker the chocolate, the better it is for you. Often chocolate will proclaim the percentage of cocoa in the chocolate on the packaging. The higher that percentage, the more healthful the chocolate (and the less sugar it contains). I generally won’t eat anything under 85 per cent and have even been known to snack on 100 per cent chocolate from time to time. (Admittedly, this is an acquired taste as there is absolutely no sweetness added and is actually quite bitter. I had a friend try this once and his reply was, “This is not chocolate. It looks like chocolate and smells like chocolate, but it’s not chocolate.” I actually quite like it though).

Avoid the Soy — Modern food processors have started adding soy lecithin to their chocolate as an emulsifier to keep the cocoa butter and cocoa from splitting. But it’s also completely unnecessary. Chocolate has been made for centuries without the use of soy lecithin and the fact that you can still get chocolate without it shows it to be non-essential. Soy lecithin is not a health food, it’s a waste product from the degumming process resulting from soy oil extraction. Essentially, this ingredient is filler and any chocolate that’s using it, no matter how expensive and how fancy the packaging, should be considered a lower quality chocolate. The best brand I’ve found not using soy lecithin is Cocoa Camino, a fair trade organic chocolate coming from Latin America.

Raw Raw — Although many of the studies that have been done on the benefits of chocolate have not been done on the raw product, raw chocolate contains more of the flavanol phytonutrients that deliver the amazing benefits. Raw chocolate comes in the form of cacao nibs, which are actually just the dried beans, as well as raw cocoa powder and raw chocolate bars and snacks. You can find raw chocolate products in most health food stores. Be aware, though, that getting this stuff raw drives the price up considerably. You’re going to pay a premium for raw cocoa powder versus the standard cooked variety, for example. It’s healthier, but it’s up to you whether that health boost is worth the damage to your wallet.

The Healthy Foodie is Doug DiPasquale, Holistic Nutritionist and trained chef, living in Toronto.