When you think of chocolate, do you associate it as a “junk food”? For all you chocolate lovers, this article may just make your day!
Chocolate is a plant-based food that contains several minerals such as magnesium, copper, zinc, and iron. In addition, it contains a group of phytochemicals called polyphenols. Phytochemicals have been recently shown to possess antioxidant properties. “Antioxidant properties” means that it possesses little chemicals that help fight off certain diseases.
Now, this article is not telling you it is okay to make chocolate a major part of your diet. What it is telling you that it is perfectly fine to include it as part of a well balanced diet.
The plant phenols found in chocolate include a subclass known as flavonoids. Flavonoids are found in tea, wine, cocoa, and chocolate. Studies have shown that flavonoids seem to have a positive effect impact on heart health.
Chocolate flavonoids possess a very unique chemical structure compared to other plant-based foods and beverages. These flavonoids are actually rarely found in food sources. But, of biggest interest is the fact that they are particularly powerful antioxidants.
The polyphenols in chocolate have been reported to decrease the oxidation of LDL cholesterol both in vitro and in humans. This finding is especially important in regards to heart health. LDL cholesterol levels have been linked as a potential risk factor for heart disease.
“Isn’t chocolate high in fat?”, you ask. “And, isn’t it saturated fat?” Yes, and yes. However, studies have shown that chocolate is no longer a concern in regards to its saturated fat content. Why?
Early on, it appeared that ALL saturated fats had a negative effect on cholesterol levels. New research shows that not all saturated fats act the same way in the body. The type of fat contained in cocoa butter include oleic acid (a monounsaturated fat – heart healthy) and stearic and palmitic acids (both saturated fats).
Stearic acid has unique properties as a saturated fat. Stearic acid’s effect on blood cholesterol is neutral – it neither raises or lowers cholesterol. Other saturated fats increase blood cholesterol levels. In case you are wondering what it is exactly that makes a fat saturated vs. unsaturated, it quite simply is the chemical structure. So, while stearic acid’s chemical structure defines it as a saturated fat, it does not effect cholesterol levels the same as other saturated fats.
Conclusion – Chocolate eaten in moderation may actually contribute to a heart healthy diet. Plus, indulging a little will likely boost your spirits.