Chocolate Bliss – the myth and the reality

Being a confirmed chocoholic and a health nut, I’ve had to justify and rationalize my passion with my profession for a long time. Just recently, with the extensive research being done on the health value of chocolate, I’ve discovered a wealth of information that’s definitely fueled my interest, and I thought it might help you, too.

Flavonoids provide important protective benefits to plants, such as repairing damage and shielding them from environmental toxins. When we consume flavonoids found in plant foods, it appears that we also benefit from this antioxidant power. As you may know, antioxidants are believed to help the body’s cell resist damage caused by free radicals, formed by normal bodily processes such as breathing or environmental contaminants like cigarette smoke. If the body lacks antioxidants, free radical damage can lead to increases in LDL (the “bad” cholesterol in our body) oxidation and plaque formation on the arterial walls.

The good news in all of this is that chocolate contains flavonoids! But before you grab that candy bar, here’s what you should know:

The processing of cocoa into chocolate treats involves several steps to reduce it’s naturally pungent taste. It is the flavonoids (the specific type in chocolate are called polyphenols) that provide this taste. So, the more processed the chocolate, the more flavonoids are lost.

To date, it appears that dark chocolate contains the most flavonoids. However, milk chocolate fanatics take heart, there’s more research being done in this area.

The fat in chocolate, it turns out, isn’t as bad for you as once believed. Since chocolate is made from cocoa butter, it’s comprised of equal amounts of oleic acid (a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat also found in olive oil), stearic and palmitic acids. Stearic and palmitic acids are forms of saturated fats, which are not healthy. Stearic acids appear to have a neutral effect on cholesterol, but palmitic acid does raise cholesterol levels. However, it’s only 1/3 of the fat calories found in chocolate.

Enjoy a small serving (one ounce is a serving, and that’s usually just a small square) as often as once a day – and check back for more information on this delicious topic.