A Healthy Heart and Chocolate

Amazing heart and chocolate findings reveal that regular consumption of chocolate can actually help protect you against a heart attack. Researchers are discovering that, contrary to popular conception, eating moderate amounts of chocolate is not contrary to maintaining a healthy circulatory system.

Dark Chocolate for Heart Health

Past research has shown the importance of limiting saturated fats for a healthy circulatory system. Cocoa butter, the fat in chocolate, might be expected to increase blood cholesterol levels because it contains saturated fat.

However, the fat in chocolate, from cocoa butter, is comprised of equal amounts of oleic acid (a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat also found in olive oil), stearic and palmitic acids. Stearic and palmitic acids are forms of saturated fat. Saturated fats are linked to increases in LDL-cholesterol and risk for heart disease.

However, research indicates that stearic acid appears to have a neutral effect on cholesterol, neither raising nor lowering LDL-cholesterol levels. Palmitic acid, on the other hand, does adversely affect cholesterol levels but only comprises one-third of the fat calories in chocolate.

According to Dr. Scott Grundy, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Texas, "We used to think that all kinds of saturated fat raised the cholesterol level, but now we know that there are several types of saturated fats, and they don't all act the same. Our research has shown that stearic acid simply doesn't increase the cholesterol level in blood the same way that other types of saturated fats do."

Heart and chocolate studies have shown that, when consumed as part of a balanced eating plan, chocolate in moderation does not increase blood cholesterol levels. Milk chocolate in the diet, even when consumed on a daily basis over a long period of time, does not raise blood cholesterol levels in healthy young men, according to the Southwestern University Medical Center in Dallas. (Citation: Stearic Acid: A Unique Saturated Fatty Acid. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 60: (6S), 1994.) The study found that consuming milk chocolate, which contains cocoa butter along with a small amount of milk fat, did not raise the blood cholesterol.

Nutritionists recommend that milk chocolate be eaten in moderation, but say that there is no reason that it cannot be included in a diet to control blood cholesterol. "There are no good foods and no bad foods, but rather there are good diets and bad diets," said Kris-Etherton, Ph.D., professor of nutrition at The Pennsylvania State University and author of research published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. "When consumers pick up a milk chocolate bar and see on the nutrition label that it contains saturated fat, they need to remember that not all saturated fats are the same."

Heart and chocolate research has shown that the cocoa in chocolate is rich in flavonoids, which contain antioxidants that may be beneficial in reducing the risk for coronary heart disease. Antioxidants are believed to help the body's cells resist damage caused by free radicals, formed by normal bodily processes such as breathing or environmental contaminants like cigarette smoke. When the body lacks adequate levels of antioxidants, free radical damage ensues, leading to increases in LDL-cholesterol oxidation and plaque formation on arterial walls. The Cleveland Clinic Heart & Vascular Institute reports that in addition to their antioxidant capabilities, flavonoids also:

  • Are thought to help reduce platelet activation.
  • May affect the relaxation capabilities of blood vessels.
  • May positively affect the balance of certain hormone-like compounds called eicosanoids, which are thought to play a role in cardiovascular health.

If you have heart disease, high blood cholesterol, or diabetes and enjoy chocolate, talk to a registered dietitian about heart and chocolate facts to find out how much you can include in your personal meal plan. The research seems to be favorable to chocolate lovers.

You should allow yourself an indulgence of chocolate (preferably dark) and savor it. This can definitely be part of a healthy diet. Your heart will thank you! And, even your liver will thank you...according to The Liverguru...dark chocolate cocoa is beneficial to our liver. Check out her healthy recipe for chocolate chip banana muffins.

Notice & Disclaimer: All content of this website is provided for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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