This weekend it's Easter, and kids of all ages will be munching away on yummy chocolate Easter eggs. It, therefore, seems rather appropriate to tell users about the latest chocolate research findings.
A number of years ago, scientists had already discovered that chocolate is not as bad for our health as we always believed. Among other interesting results were the findings that chocolate is not the main culprit in obesity, that the main fat used to make chocolate, namely stearic acid, is not as atherogenic as many other saturated fats , and that there is no relationship between chocolate consumption and acne.
One of the surprising results of earlier research into the health aspects of chocolate, was that chocolate contains compounds called polyphenols which can protect against heart disease. Polyphenols are also found in red wine, and various teas. Increased consumption of polyphenols is believed to counteract the ravages of so-called ‘free radicals’, which damage blood vessels and increase the quantity of ‘bad’ LDL-cholesterol in the body.
Based on these research results further studies were carried out to try and determine how the polyphenols in chocolate and cacao protect the body against heart disease, and if these compounds can also reduce inflammation.
In one of the studies, 25 healthy volunteers were given chocolate and cacao drinks for a period of six weeks. Various chemical markers of free radical damage or oxidative stress, and inflammation were monitored. The researchers found that the ‘bad’ LDL-cholesterol was less likely to be damaged by free radicals when the volunteers consumed cacao in the form of chocolate or cacao drinks. Inflammation was, however, not affected.
In a second study, 23 healthy subjects either ate an average American diet, or the same diet with the addition of cacao powder (22 gram a day) and dark chocolate (16 gram a day). Once again the inclusion of cacao and chocolate improved resistance to free radical damage.
One of the problems that contributes to heart disease and can cause heart attacks when blood vessels supplying the heart with its essential blood supply get blocked, is an increased tendency of platelets (small blood components) to stick together. This phenomenon is called platelet adhesion and researchers have been investigating ways and means of preventing excessive platelet adhesion or clotting which can lead to blocked arteries, for many years. A well-known breakthrough was the discovery that taking minute doses of aspirin on a daily basis can reduce clotting of the blood and protect against heart disease.
In a recent study, researchers in the USA compared the effect of aspirin (81 mg) with that of a cacao drink on its own, or in combination with aspirin, on platelet adhesion in 16 healthy adult volunteers. Cacao was also found to inhibit clotting and combining aspirin and cacao increased the effect moderately.
This new evidence that cacao and chocolate are not as ‘sinful and harmful’ as they have always been made out to be, is good news for chocoholics. However, it is important to keep certain things in mind over this Easter weekend.
Eating moderate amounts of chocolate may have certain health benefits
Chocolate is, however, not exactly a “health food”!
Dark chocolate and cacao powder appear to have more beneficial effects than milk chocolate
A moderate amount of chocolate would be about 10-20g or 1 Easter egg
If you gorge on chocolate Easter eggs you will be undoing the potential good effects
If you are trying to lose weight, then limit yourself to one chocolate egg for this holiday so as not to sabotage your diet
Moderation is the key when it comes to eating chocolate over Easter and for the rest of the year!
Written by Dr IV van Heerden, DietDoc
- Health24, updated April 2012)
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