Happy Valentine’s Day!
Today is a day for many things: professing your love for someone, giving and receiving flowers and cards, watching sappy romance movies, and of course CHOCOLATE! And so Samantha and I thought today would be the perfect day to dive into the topic of chocolate and whether it lives up to its hype as a “super food” or if it is the cause of the many health issues it is often blamed for.
If you want to see confusing and conflicting newspaper headings, evening news clips and sound bites look no further than chocolate! Chocolate has been touted for, and accused of (among other things): being the cause, and later the cure, for migraines; an aphrodisiac; a dieters worst nightmare but also a heart healthy food. One headline will state “It’s official – chocolate linked to heart health” while another states “Chocolate – it’s just not that good for you”.
Historically, chocolate has had its ups and downs in the media, but lately it seems to receive largely positive attention. It has come to the point where chocolate bars are now marketed with health claims on the package and some even as “Natural Health Products”. Chocolate bars are now found fortified with vitamins, minerals, and probiotics and are marketed to improve bone health, provide better sleep and improve digestion. So what’s the deal, is chocolate really a health food?
Before I go any further I should disclose that Samantha and I both like chocolate. A lot. We like it regardless of if its possible health benefits, but being the nutrition nerds we are we had to find out the truth. Is chocolate good for your heart?
We were so interested in the truth about chocolate that while completing our Master of Health Science programs we conducted (with 3 other colleagues) a Systematic Literature Review (the highest level of research) on cocoa. Specifically, we looked at whether or not cocoa (or chocolate) was a “heart healthy” food – did it improve cardiovascular health by lowering blood pressure?
Overall, we found that yes, chocolate does seem to have some “heart healthy” properties; it did appear to lower blood pressure. But, and this is a big but, it depended on the type of chocolate. Dark chocolate appeared to have a greater effect on blood pressure than milk chocolate or white chocolate. Specifically, the flavonoids (powerful plant chemicals, which are more prevalent in dark chocolate) seem to cause the decrease in blood pressure.
So, do Samantha and I now recommend chocolate to all of our patients? Yes and no.
Here’s the no: The studies were sometimes conflicting, different types of chocolate were used with different levels of flavonoids, which means we can’t recommend a specific “dosage” of chocolate.
Here’s the yes: we both believe in everything in moderation. If you like chocolate, eat it. If you like dark chocolate that’s even better. But, keep in mind calories count, even if they are coming from “good” sources.
That box of Valentine chocolate? Eat what you need to be satisfied, but keep portion control in mind. Eat it because you enjoy it, not for a health benefit that may or may not be there.