Sometimes nutritionists can seem like spoilsports, telling us our favourite treats are bad for our health and should be avoided. If you're a chocolate lover, there is nothing to fear in a recent study that recommends a daily serving of dark chocolate for your heart. How can our favourite indulgence be good for us? Here's what the study discovered:
Dark Chocolate an Effective Preventive Therapy
In a research paper published in the British Medical Journal, Monash University researchers concluded that "blood pressure and cholesterol lowering effects of dark chocolate consumption are beneficial in the prevention of cardiovascular events" in high risk populations. Since cardiovascular disease is responsible for 29 percent of deaths worldwide, it is safe to say it is something all Australians should be concerned about.
Noting that no long-term, controlled studies of dark chocolate had been undertaken, the research team used the available data and a sophisticated "Markov model" to analyze the probable outcome of a diet that included 100 grams of dark chocolate consumed daily over a ten year period versus a chocolate-free diet.
How Dark Chocolate Can Prevent Heart Disease and Strokes
The purpose of the Monash University study was not to determine which specific ingredients in dark chocolate were responsible for potentially preventing cardiovascular diseases. Many earlier studies have indicated that polyphenols, particularly a group of polyphenols calle flavonoids, which "exhibit antihypertensive, anti-inflammatory, antithrombotic, and metabolic effects" are probably responsible for dark chocolate's effectiveness. In the body, flavanoids (or flavanols) stimulate the production of endothelial nitric oxide, a substance that causes dilation of blood vessels, which in turn lowers blood pressure.
High levels of flavonoids are found in cocoa beans, the main ingredient in high quality chocolate products. This is part of the reason why dark chocolate, which contains more cocoa than milk chocolate, is emphasised. Researchers also recommend "premium quality" dark chocolate with not less than 70 percent cocoa be consumed. While premium quality chocolate is more expensive than cheaper chocolate bars, their research also determined that "chocolate therapy" was a cost-effective form of preventive therapy.
In a summary of the study published by Monash University (A dark chocolate a day keeps the doctor away), lead researcher Ella Zomer said: "We're not suggesting that the high-risk group use dark chocolate as their only preventative measure, but in combination with sensible choices, such as exercise." The ideal or "best case scenario" as indicated by their study model was the consumption of "100g of dark chocolate every day over a 10 year period."
Some habits are easier to get into and stick with than others. It's nice to know that, along with a healthy diet and regular exercise, a little daily "chocolate therapy" can help prevent heart disease as well.
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