Chocolate and Health Benefits: Study Details
Hong compared white chocolate, which has no cocoa solids, to regular dark chocolate containing 70% cocoa. The cocoa solids contain healthy compounds called flavonols. These have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
She also tested dark chocolate containing 70% cocoa that had been overheated or ”bloomed.” (“You know when you leave chocolate in the [hot] car?” she asks. That’s ”bloomed” — melted and then maybe hardened again.)
She wanted to see if the melting would rob the dark chocolate of the health effects.
Hong’s team assigned 31 men and women to eat about 1.7 ounces (a standard-size chocolate bar is about 1.5 ounces) of dark, white, or ”bloomed” dark chocolate every day for 15 days. Before and after the study, Hong’s team measured blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol.
Compared to those who ate white chocolate, those eating either dark chocolate had:
Lower blood sugar levels
- Improved LDL or ”bad” cholesterol
- Improved HDL or “good” cholesterol
- She didn’t find differences in blood pressure between the white chocolate eaters and the dark chocolate eaters.
As for why the dark chocolate may help blood sugar levels, Hong says its antioxidants may help the body use its insulin more efficiently to control blood sugar. This, in turn, helps to lower blood sugar levels naturally.
Compared to people who ate white chocolate, those who ate dark lowered their bad cholesterol by about 20%, Hong tells WebMD. Dark chocolate eaters increased their good cholesterol by 20%, compared to white chocolate eaters.
The white chocolate, but not the dark, made the skin blood flow slow down — not a desirable quality. Skin blood flow is a way to measure how the blood vessels are functioning.
The study did not have industry funding.
Chocolate for Health: Perspectives
Some of the findings echo that of other research, says Joe Vinson, PhD, a professor of chemistry at the University of Scranton and a long-time researcher on antioxidants in foods. He reviewed the findings.
“The fact that white chocolate (containing fat and sugar) makes the skin blood flow slow down is newsworthy,” he says. The message to stay healthy, he says, is: “Don’t eat fat and sugar without antioxidants.”
The finding about bloomed chocolate is reassuring if you’re wondering whether to eat old chocolate, Vinson says. He says it may look bad but that it still has active antioxidants.
Other studies have found lowering of blood pressure with dark chocolate, says Eric Ding, PhD, a nutritional epidemiologist and instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. He reviewed the findings.
The fact that Hong did not, he says, could simply be because of the small size of the study.
“The LDL decrease and the HDL increase are consistent with previous research,” Ding tells WebMD.
The blood sugar finding is newer, he says.
Hong reminds chocolate lovers that moderation is key.
These findings were presented at a medical conference. They should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the “peer review” process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.
Dark Chocolate Lowers Blood Pressure
Dark chocolate — not white chocolate — lowers high blood pressure, say Dirk Taubert, MD, PhD, and colleagues at the University of Cologne, Germany. Their report appears in the Aug. 27 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.
But that’s no license to go on a chocolate binge. Eating more dark chocolate can help lower blood pressure — if you’ve reached a certain age and have mild high blood pressure, say the researchers. But you have to balance the extra calories by eating less of other things.
Antioxidants in Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate — but not milk chocolate or dark chocolate eaten with milk — is a potent antioxidant, report Mauro Serafini, PhD, of Italy’s National Institute for Food and Nutrition Research in Rome, and colleagues. Their report appears in the Aug. 28 issue of Nature. Antioxidants gobble up free radicals, destructive molecules that are implicated in heart disease and other ailments.
“Our findings indicate that milk may interfere with the absorption of antioxidants from chocolate … and may therefore negate the potential health benefits that can be derived from eating moderate amounts of dark chocolate.”
Translation: Say “Dark, please,” when ordering at the chocolate counter. Don’t even think of washing it down with milk. And if health is your excuse for eating chocolate, remember the word “moderate” as you nibble.
Taubert’s team signed up six men and seven women aged 55-64. All had just been diagnosed with mild high blood pressure — on average, systolic blood pressure (the top number) of 153 and diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) of 84.
Every day for two weeks, they ate a 100-gram candy bar and were asked to balance its 480 calories by not eating other foods similar in nutrients and calories. Half the patients got dark chocolate and half got white chocolate.
Those who ate dark chocolate had a significant drop in blood pressure (by an average of 5 points for systolic and an average of 2 points for diastolic blood pressure). Those who ate white chocolate did not.
In the second study, Serafini’s team signed up seven healthy women and five healthy men aged 25-35. On different days they each ate 100 grams of dark chocolate by itself, 100 grams of dark chocolate with a small glass of whole milk, or 200 grams of milk chocolate.
An hour later, those who ate dark chocolate alone had the most total antioxidants in their blood. And they had higher levels of epicatechin, a particularly healthy compound found in chocolate. The milk chocolate eaters had the lowest epicatechin levels of all.
Chocolate for Blood Pressure: Darker Is Better
What is it about dark chocolate?
The answer is plant phenols — cocoa phenols, to be exact. These compounds are known to lower blood pressure.
Chocolates made in Europe are generally richer in cocoa phenols than those made in the U.S. So if you’re going to try this at home, remember: Darker is better.
Just remember to balance the calories. A 100-gram serving of Hershey’s Special Dark Chocolate Bar has 531 calories, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If you ate that much raw apple you’d only take in 52 calories. But then, you’d miss out on the delicious blood pressure benefit.
A hint: Don’t replace healthy foods with chocolate. Most people’s diets have plenty of sweets. Switch those for some chocolate if you’re going to try the truffle treatment.
6 Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate has recently been discovered to have a number of healthy benefits. While eating dark chocolate can lead to the health benefits described below, remember that chocolate is also high in fat. Use FitDay to keep track of your calories and nutrition as you work towards your weight loss goals.
1) Dark Chocolate is Good for Your Heart
Studies show that eating a small amount of dark chocolate two or three times each week can help lower your blood pressure. Dark chocolate improves blood flow and may help prevent the formation of blood clots. Eating dark chocolate may also prevent arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
2) Dark Chocolate is Good for Your Brain
Dark chocolate increases blood flow to the brain as well as to the heart, so it can help improve cognitive function. Dark chocolate also helps reduce your risk of stroke.
Dark chocolate also contains several chemical compounds that have a positive effect on your mood and cognitive health. Chocolate contains phenylethylamine (PEA), the same chemical your brain creates when you feel like you’re falling in love. PEA encourages your brain to release endorphins, so eating dark chocolate will make you feel happier.
Dark chocolate also contains caffeine, a mild stimulant. However, dark chocolate contains much less caffeine than coffee. A 1.5 ounce bar of dark chocolate contains 27 mg of caffeine, compared to the 200 mg found in an eight ounce cup of coffee.
3) Dark Chocolate Helps Control Blood Sugar
Dark chocolate helps keep your blood vessels healthy and your circulation unimpaired to protect against type 2 diabetes. The flavonoids in dark chocolate also help reduce insulin resistance by helping your cells to function normally and regain the ability to use your body’s insulin efficiently. Dark chocolate also has a low glycemic index, meaning it won’t cause huge spikes in blood sugar levels.
4) Dark Chocolate is Full of Antioxidants
Dark chocolate is loaded with antioxidants. Antioxidants help free your body of free radicals, which cause oxidative damage to cells. Free radicals are implicated in the aging process and may be a cause of cancer, so eating antioxidant rich foods like dark chocolate can protect you from many types of cancer and slow the signs of aging.
5) Dark Chocolate Contains Theobromine
Dark chocolate contains theobromine, which has been shown to harden tooth enamel. That means that dark chocolate, unlike most other sweets, lowers your risk of getting cavities if you practice proper dental hygiene.
Theobromine is also a mild stimulant, though not as strong as caffeine. It can, however, help to suppress coughs.
6) Dark Chocolate is High in Vitamins and Minerals
Dark chocolate contains a number of vitamins and minerals that can support your health. Dark chocolate contains some of the following vitamins and minerals in high concentrations:
The copper and potassium in dark chocolate help prevent against stroke and cardiovascular ailments. The iron in chocolate protects against iron deficiency anemia, and the magnesium in chocolate helps prevent type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.