Chocolates as Part of a Healthy Diet
~ August 2000 No.105 ~
Who says that you have to suffer to be healthy? There is more to healthy eating than just raw vegetables and tofu. Lots more. Now it looks like you can include chocolate in your diet and use the excuse that you are just doing it for your heart.
The story of how chocolate is made is a long one that involves many key chemical steps which change the cream coloured beans with no chocolate flavour into the rich brown powder that is the vital ingredient of chocolates. Ripe cocoa beans are harvested and removed from their husk. A fermentation process converts sugars in the beans to lactic and acetic acid and at the same time generates heat. This heat activates enzymes in the bean that produce the compounds that give the chocolate taste. In the processing plant the beans are blended and then roasted. The roasted beans are high in fat. The fat that is removed from the beans during processing is called cocoa butter. Cocoa butter is unique among vegetable fats because it is a solid at normal room temperature and melts at 89 to 93 degrees Fahrenheit, which is just below body temperature. The chocolate powder that remains after the cocoa butter has been removed can be used to make cocoa or chocolates. Dark, unsweetened chocolate is made from a combination of unsweetened chocolate, sugar, cocoa butter and perhaps a little vanilla. Milk chocolate the kind you would find in a chocolate bar contains milk and less unsweetened chocolate.
Recent analytical data has pointed to possible compounds in chocolate that may be beneficial to health. Besides containing the many compounds that give chocolate its unique taste, cocoa powder also contains the compound catechin which is a flavonoid. Flavonoids have anti-oxidant properties like vitamin E and vitamin C. Catechin is normally associated with tea, but Dutch researchers have found that chocolate contains four times as much catechin as tea. In countries where the consumption of chocolate is high, chocolate can be a major source of catechin.
Tests in the lab have shown that catechin reduces LDL oxidation and suppresses lipoxygenase activity - two processes that contribute to atherogenesis and heart disease. That´s the possible good news. Chocolates still are still high in calories and contain saturated fats. Something that tastes that good has to have some drawbacks!
To date there has been no real direct scientific proof that adding foods containing anti-oxidants can reduce cardio-vascular problems. But it is good to know that you may not have to feel as guilty as you once did after satisfying that craving for chocolate.
Arts IC, Hollman PC, Kromhout D, Chocolate as a source of tea flavonoids
The Lancet 354: 488, 1999