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Is Dark Chocolate Overrated?

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You’ve no doubt heard that chocolate is great for your heart—and not just because you feel good when giving it to someone. Chocolate is touted for its health benefits mainly because of compounds called polyphenols, which may have antioxidant properties to help protect your body from disease.

The liquor of cocoa beans is loaded with polyphenols, and dark chocolate contains significantly more cocoa liquor than milk chocolate. But something happens between the harvesting of a cocoa bean and when you grab a candy bar off the shelf—polyphenols fight for survival.

Studies have shown that some polyphenols are destroyed during the processing of the cocoa bean. So a chocolate bar claiming 70 percent cocoa solids may, in fact, have the same amount of polyphenols as milk chocolate.

Some studies have also shown that milk proteins may bind to the polyphenols, rendering them unabsorbable by your body. Same with fat. As for sugar, the sweet stuff in chocolate is interesting, because although it’s typically a good idea to avoid sugar, researchers have found that when dark chocolate is consumed with sugar, more polyphenols are absorbed than eating chocolate without sugar.

There’s research to show that consuming dark chocolate can potentially decrease platelet aggregation, systolic and diastolic blood pressure and increase insulin sensitivity—all good things for your health. But the research that’s shown dark chocolate reduces blood pressure was done on pre-hypertensive or stage 1 hypertensive individuals. Researchers don’t know yet if overall dark chocolate consumption can help prevent hypertension in healthy individuals. Of course for every study that showed an improvement in one parameter, there’s a study that shows no improvement.

Bottom line: If you suffer from hypertension, eating one to three ounces of high quality dark chocolate once or twice a week along with other healthy lifestyle changes may help to reduce your blood pressure. But take into account the extra calories coming from the added fat and sugar. Ounce for ounce, dark chocolate and milk chocolate still have the same amount of calories, fat and sugar (give or take 5%). Dark chocolate may have some added healthful compounds, but more research is needed to know for sure. Whichever kind of chocolate you like, read the labels to look for added ingredients, pay attention to the sugar and fat, and enjoy it all in moderation.

Tags: Nutrients, Snacks, Dessert