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Functional Foods: Who Doesn't Love Chocolate?

Jul. 17, 2014|687 views
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Who says diamonds are a girl's best friend? Not me. My vote goes to chocolate. It's rich, rewarding, and comforting. Unfortunately, many of us also view chocolate as a sinful indulgence. Anything that tastes this good has to be bad for you, right? Well, maybe so. But not necessarily. It all depends on what you mean by "chocolate."

If you're talking about the kind of inexpensive "milk" chocolate that's widely available at virtually every check-out lane in every drug, grocery, and convenience store in America, then, yes. Eating this near-imitation chocolate doesn't do you any favors. It's extremely high in fat and sugar, and features exceptionally small amounts of beneficial cocoa polyphenol compounds. It also usually co-stars with high-calorie gooey fillings. And they are nothing more than empty calories filled with toxic sugar.

But if you mean high-cocoa-content, high-quality dark chocolate, then no. Not only is it not bad for you, it's actually a highly beneficial functional food. In fact, research has repeatedly shown that eating a small amount of high-cocoa-content dark chocolate daily is linked to a host of potential benefits. A new study in the Journal of the American Heart Association, for example, concluded that people with peripheral artery disease (PAD) were able to walk farther without pain when they ate dark chocolate.

PAD involves the narrowing of the arteries in the extremities, especially the legs. People with this early form of cardiovascular disease often experience pain, cramping, and fatigue in the legs or hips while walking, due to reduced blood flow. Eating 40 grams of dark chocolate (about the same amount as a checkout-lane bar of milk chocolate—but with far more actual cocoa) significantly improved blood flow and enabled patients to walk pain-free for longer periods.

Although the improvements were modest, this demonstrated the potential benefits of dark chocolate consumption. Doctors speculate that dark chocolate improves blood vessel function by increasing levels of nitric oxide, a simple signaling molecule that tells blood vessel smooth muscles to relax, which allows for better blood flow. Previous research has indicated that dark chocolate consumption is linked to better blood pressure control, and a lower incidence of stroke and non-fatal heart attacks among people at higher risk for these events.

Lorenzo Loffredo; Ludovica Perri; Elisa Catasca; Pasquale Pignatelli; Monica Brancorsini; Cristina Nocella; Elena De Falco; Simona Bartimoccia; Giacomo Frati; Roberto Carnevale; Francesco Violi. Dark Chocolate Acutely Improves Walking Autonomy in Patients With Peripheral Artery Disease. Journal of the American Heart Association, July 2014 DOI: 10.1161/%u200BJAHA.114.001072

Karin Ried, Thomas R Sullivan, Peter Fakler, Oliver R Frank, Nigel P Stocks. Effect of cocoa on blood pressure. The Cochrane Library, 2012 DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD008893.pub2

E. Zomer, A. Owen, D. J. Magliano, D. Liew, C. M. Reid. The effectiveness and cost effectiveness of dark chocolate consumption as prevention therapy in people at high risk of cardiovascular disease: best case scenario analysis using a Markov model. BMJ, 2012; 344 (may30 3): e3657 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.e3657

Tags:  heart health, natural remedies, mediterranean diet
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