Lose Weight And Get Healthier From Eating Chocolate?

No doubt, many of you chocolate lovers may have been pleased to hear the news alluding to certain health benefits derived from chocolate consumption. No longer just a mid-afternoon pick-me-up, but possibly a weight loss inducer, cancer preventor, and heart healthy snack, chocolate may just be that miracle we have been awaiting. This article will consider research studies pertaining to chocolate consumption and heart disease and help determine if all the hype is warranted or just wishful thinking.

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Let us begin with a brief history of chocolate and it's uses in traditional medicines from early meso-America to 17thand 18thcentury Europe. Chocolate or cocoa has been used for medicinal purposes for a long while, providing a tasty remedy for a variety of ailments including low sexual desire and heart pain [1]. In fact, until just recently chocolate was viewed as much more than a comfort food.

Along with historical uses of cocoa in early meso-America, recent studies of an indigenous population of Native Americans, the Kuna Indians of Panama, has she'd light on some of the benefits of cocoa consumption [2]. Specifically, the Kuna people in general have almost no incidence of hypertension (high blood pressure). However, when the Kuna move to urban Panama City, the incidence of hypertension is elevated, indicating that the protective mechanism is not genetic but environmental (lifestyle habits).

So, what are the differences in lifestyle between rural and urban Kuna? Among the probable factors, rural Kuna consume a diet rich in fruits and vegetables along with fish, and city dwelling Kuna don't eat as much fish. Furthermore, rural Kuna ingest a traditional drink that contains large amounts of cocoa that they themselves prepare. While urban Kuna continue to consume the traditional beverage, the cocoa that is used is obtained from local stores. Detailed analysis of the two cocoas revealed huge disparities in flavonoid (anti-oxidant) content between the cocoas.

So, what are flavonoids? Flavonoids are a class of anti-oxidant components found in many foods. Along with the cocoa bean, flavonoids are also found in fruits, vegetables, tea, and red wine. Cocoa has the highest quantity of flavonoids (epicatechin, catechin, and procyanidins) out of all of them and gives chocolate that characteristic bitter flavor. Furthermore, dark chocolate has almost 2.5 times more flavonoids then milk chocolate, and white chocolate has virtually no flavonoids.

Consumption of foods high in flavonoids has long been correlated with decreased risk of developing heart disease and dying from it. Nevertheless, we saw with the Kuna story that not all chocolate products contain flavonoids. Where do they go?

While there may be differences in flavonoid concentrations due to genetic contributions from the plants themselves as well as general farming practices, the major cause for diverse flavonoid concentrations between chocolate-containing products comes from the processing and manufacturing of the cocoa bean, which can potentially result in a 90% loss of flavonoids. Specifically, fermentation and roasting of the cocoa bean cause major losses in flavonoid concentrations. Furthermore, a process called alkalization, a treatment used to remove the bitterness of the cocoa bean, also causes loss of flavonoids. Finally, there is evidence that addition of dairy products such as milk to produce milk chocolate may decrease the antioxidant properties of the cocoa [3].

Just how do flavonoids help protect you against heart disease? During the progression of heart disease, a lot of oxidative damage occurs. That damage may be responsible for platelet aggregation (clot formation), and oxidized lipids such as LDL (bad cholesterol) are involved in atherosclerosis possibly by sticking to the wall of blood vessels and restricting blood flow. Additionally, chocolate consumption may lower your blood pressure and increase production of vasodilators [4].

At this point, some of you may be confused as to how a food high in fat and sugar might actually lower your risk of heart disease when many similar energy-rich foods can lead to obesity, a factor that definitely increases your risk of developing heart disease. It is true that approximately half the weight of a cocoa bean is from cocoa butter, the fat found in chocolate that is responsible for it's ability to smoothly melt [1]. Even more puzzling, cocoa butter is comprised of mixture of fats, half of which are saturated (bad fats) [4]. Stearic acid, the main saturated fat in cocoa butter, is one usual saturated fat in that it actually doesn't increase blood lipid levels as other saturated fats do, but it may actually protect against heart disease [4].

In case you are wondering why stearic acid, being a saturated fat, does not contribute to heart disease, you are not alone. Research along with some scientific guesstimation indicates that perhaps the body just doesn't absorb stearic acid as well as some of the other saturated fats, so it doesn't get anywhere to really do any harm. The other possibility is that the body converts stearic acid to an unsaturated fat, oleic acid. Although neither of these possibilities has been entirely proven, consumption of stearic acid-containing foods seems to have very little effect on blood lipid levels nonetheless.

Along with being one of the richest sources of antioxidants, chocolate is also a good source of minerals. For example, dark chocolate can provide up to 15% of your daily recommended amount of magnesium and 34% of your daily recommended amount of copper.

So, like most people, you may be quite anxious to find out how much chocolate you have to force down to get the heart healthy benefits that chocolate seems to provide. This answer is never straightforward. While there is a growing amount of evidence that points to chocolate consumption lowering your risk for heart disease, a long term study of the benefits of chocolate consumption has not been completed. Furthermore, the flavonoid concentration varies greatly from chocolate to chocolate, and because flavonoid concentrations are not labeled on chocolate products, the consumer has no way of knowing which brand offers the most antioxidant potential. Until further studies are performed, moderate consumption of chocolate does not pose any serious threats, but may be helpful in warding off heart disease. Within the Plateau-proof diet, bitter chocolate used for baking is found within the Yellow CP table.

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Posted in Art Post Date 04/06/2017


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