The recent press on chocolate warms my heart and validates what I've been saying for years - it's good for you! Well, certain kinds of chocolate are.
Over the last two years, the body of research on cocoa and dark chocolate has been building, and the latest studies have shown that the darkest confections can help regulate blood pressure, reduce blood platelet stickiness, and reduce both total and LDL cholesterol levels.
Dark chocolate is chock-full of flavonoids - naturally occurring components of plant-based foods that act as antioxidants and modulators of hormone-like compounds in the body. The flavonoids abundant in cocoa and dark chocolate are especially interesting because they're large, complex molecules not commonly found in other foods. That's why some researchers believe chocolate provides even more health benefits than red wine or green tea.
Dark chocolate is also rich in oleic acid, a fatty acid that helps reduce total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol concentrations. Furthermore, chocolate's flavonoids have been shown to be instrumental in preventing the oxidation of LDL cholesterol and inhibiting blood platelet clumping.
The Darker the Better
Chocolate has a light and a dark side - literally. White and milk chocolate, for example, have none of the benefits mentioned. They're just pure sugar and fat, or empty calories. What you need to look for are high-quality semisweet or bittersweet bars or pure cocoa powder.
My favorite brand is Chocolove, a premium Belgian chocolate sold via the Internet and in selected health food stores, including Whole Foods markets and Wild Oats. All Chocolove products have a high cocoa content, but their "strong dark" bar with 70 percent cocoa provides the best balance between taste and health benefits, in my estimation.
I eat dark chocolate at least once a week, no more than 1 oz. at a time, savored slowly. Chocolate morsels are also delicious mixed with dried, organic cranberries or added to the trail mix I developed and shared with you newsletter subscribers (in your supplement entitled Protocol Two, page 4, and in the March 2001 issue of The Sinatra Health Report).
Don't Go Overboard
While I frequently enjoy chocolate, I don't eat it every day because that's where addiction starts. (If you feel you're addicted to chocolate or you constantly crave sweets, then you may have a deficiency of serotonin, a mood-stabilizing brain transmitter.).
Even cardiac patients can enjoy dark chocolate regularly in moderation. Although chocolate does contain some caffeine, this downside is almost always outweighed by chocolate's many benefits. The two groups that need to be careful are people with atrial fibrillation or arrhythmia. They may be sensitive to the small amounts of caffeine in chocolate and should avoid it if it aggravates their condition.
But for anyone else, some rich, dark chocolate is one of the best gifts you can get or give this holiday season. In more ways than one, chocolate is truly a heartfelt present.
Until next time,
Stephen Sinatra, M.D.