Sunday, 10 June 2012

Superfoods & Dark Chocolate – Discoveries That May Change The Way You Eat

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Dark chocolate.  Two words that are laced with controversy and equally with possibility.  Scientific research boasts the advantages of superfoods but which claims are true and which are not?

In this series of superfoods we will start our discussion with a much loved food – dark chocolate.  My heart unquestionably beats in joy when there is dark chocolate on the menu.  Its rich glossy smoothness is definitely satisfying and very rewarding.

I am sure that you are familiar with the proposed health benefits of dark chocolate.  I may not necessarily use the term ‘superfoods’ for chocolate as it can just as easily be argued that all fruit and vegetables must also be superfoods.  But in matters of the heart, dark chocolate may play a protective role.

The recent Australian study featured in the British Medical Journal promoted dark chocolate, which are derived from cocoa beans and rich in polyphenols, such as flavonoids. 

You will be clapping your hands in joy to discover that eating 100g of dark chocolate daily for 10 years may reduce your risk of cardiovascular events (if you have been diagnosed with hypertension).  The study also revealed positive effects on cholesterol levels, whereby eating dark chocolate daily may reduce your low density cholesterol (LDL), which is commonly known as the ‘bad’ cholesterol.

How does dark chocolate lower blood pressure and LDL cholesterol?
The exact mechanisms are unknown but the authors speculate that flavonoids in cocoa may exhibit antihypertensive, anti-inflammatory, antithrombotic and metabolic effects which may all contribute to their protective effect.

However, there was no significant change in total cholesterol or HDL cholesterol (high density cholesterol).  HDL cholesterol is also commonly referred to as the ‘good’ cholesterol.

The effects of dark chocolate on blood pressure and LDL cholesterol so far appear to be beneficial, but remember that these effects are not as profound as blood pressure lowering medications.  

A combination of dietary modification, exercise and weight loss may even exceed the beneficial effects speculated from eating dark chocolate alone.  The authors did not comment on the dietary patterns of the participants.

The study predicted that eating dark chocolate daily reduced cardiovascular events by 85 per 10 000 over 10 years, but this was predicted by using a mathematical model.

Food for thought
The average waist circumference of study participants was around 100cmParticipants were overweight, with a body mass index of 29.9.

Dark chocolate contains sugar.  Eating 100g per day, the equivalent of two chocolate bars will contribute to your overall caloric intake, risking weight gain.  However as the authors commented, dark chocolate may increase satiety and mood.  You are bound to feel satisfied after this feast and therefore more likely to reduce or replace calorific snacks such as crisps or biscuits with the heart loving dark chocolate.  Well your waistline certainly hopes so anyway!

Purple Summary
I was disappointed that the authors did not comment on the percentage of cocoa solids within the dark chocolate for consumption by the study participants.  The authors concluded that there may be a role for dark chocolate in reducing cardiovascular events but these results may not be as amazing as you think, as the results are based on a predictive mathematical model only.  

Always consider your overall diet reflecting on regular fruit and vegetable intake, other sources of flavonoids, the total fat content of your diet and the amount of saturated fat, exercise habits and stress management techniques.

On a positive note, why not try pure cocoa powder which is also rich in flavonoids without the added calories. Avoid instant cocoa powder as this is processed without the gift of our heart loving flavonoids.

Lovely readers, I'd love to read your comments on this study and dark chocolate.  What do you think?