Easter chocolate: small and dark is healthy

April 2, 2010 by  

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Just in time for Easter!

Researchers at the German Institute of Human Nutrition say it is okay –actually healthy – to eat chocolate this Easter – as long as they are small and dark.

How small?

7.5 g which is just about a small square from a 100-gram chocolate bar or a very small chocolate egg.

How dark?

The more cacao the better, at least 70% of cocoa is advisable. The researchers looked at the effects of chocolate consumption for over a decade on the health of 19,300 people. Those who ate the most chocolate experienced more cardiovascular benefits such us lower blood pressure  and 39% lower risk for stroke heart attack than those who ate less.

This might sound like great news for chocoholics and chocolate manufacturers. But before you stuff yourself with sweet dark Easter goodies, take note that the highest consumption – 7.5 g – isn’t really much. There is no data showing whether higher chocolate consumption brings more benefits.

According to researcher Gary Buijsse

“Small amounts of chocolate may help to prevent heart disease, but only if it replaces other energy-dense food, such as snacks, in order to keep body weight stable.”

So what is it in dark chocolate that benefits our heart health?

Antioxidants, specifically flavonols, also found in red grapes and berries and vegetables.

Flavanols appear to be … responsible for improving the bioavailability of nitric oxide from the cells that line the inner wall of blood vessels. Nitric oxide is a gas that, once released, causes the smooth muscle cells of the blood vessels to relax and widen, [and] that this may contribute to lower blood pressure.

So why can’t we just eat as much chocolate as we want to avoid cardiovascular problems? Well, the chocolate that we get from the supermarket is a processed product which contains sugar, milk, and other additives. A 100-g chocolate bar contains about 500 calories. The beneficial decrease in blood pressure will be cancelled by the adverse effect of weight gain.

Like most things in life, moderation is the key word. Chocolate is good for you, but too much of a good thing can turn bad. Happy Easter!

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