Junk food is a slow killer. It’s making you diabetic, raising your blood pressure, and threatens to shut down your heart before the age of 50. No one really argues with how important diet is to long-term health. You are what you eat.
The question is, then: What is junk food?
Think about five foods you consider junk. Was chocolate one of your choices?
Should it be?
More and more we are learning that it’s less the what of the food we eat, but the how in the way it’s prepared. A hamburger from McDonald’s is bad, but what about a homemade grass-fed burger with gluten-free bread, and organic cheese? French fries are the worst, right? How about some sweet potato strips baked to a crunchy crisp in the oven?
Maybe it’s time to have another look at chocolate. While a Snickers bar a day won’t keep the doctor away, could this ‘guilty pleasure’ food be misunderstood?
The Truth About Chocolate: It’s In the Flavonoids
Flavonoids are compounds that are a significant part of all our diets. It’s a good thing, too, because studies have shown that flavonoids have anti-allergic, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, anti-cancer, and anti-diarrheal properties.
And guess what? They’re in chocolate. Before you get too excited, there is a caveat: Flavonoids exist naturally in cacao but are often removed because of their bitter taste. Even when they do make it into milk chocolate (the most processed of the chocolates), the milk may interfere with their absorption.
Flavonoids aren’t exclusive to chocolate. They are found in a lot of foods, including tea, fruits and vegetables. Flavanols, the main type of flavonoid in cocoa, are known to have the same antioxidant qualities in addition to benefits in blood pressure, blood flow to the brain and heart, and in breaking up blood clots.
A study conducted at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital analyzed more than a thousand people. They found that dark chocolate made of at least 50-70 percent cocoa lowered blood pressure for all participants. The benefits were especially acute in those who already had hypertension.
Other suggested benefits included:
- Increased insulin sensitivity, which naturally lowers diabetes risk.
- Decreased LDL (bad) cholesterol
- Significantly increase in HDL (good) cholesterol.
Dark Chocolate vs. White Chocolate
Another study conducted by researchers at San Diego State University compared white chocolate to dark chocolate. In the study, 31 people ate about a candy bar’s worth of either white or dark chocolate for 15 days. Their blood was analyzed before and after the experiment.
Compared to white chocolate, the dark chocolate eaters had:
- Lower blood sugar levels
- Improved LDL or ”bad” cholesterol by about 20%
- Improved HDL or “good” cholesterol by about 20%
- No difference in blood pressure (which is the main difference from the Harvard study)
Additionally, ingesting white chocolate made skin blood flow slow down, which is undesirable because it indicates the blood vessels are not functioning to their potential. This change was not observed in people who ate dark chocolate.
Bottom Line: It’s All In The Preparation
Are you getting the trend? Many of the things we eat on a daily basis are not at all good for our bodies, but yet their main ingredients are. It’s less about the food and more about what we do to them before we use them as fuel.
Consider this: the modern manufacturing process for chocolate may reduce the flavonoids present by more than 80 percent! Dark chocolate contains about 55 mg of catechin, a type of flavonoid, in 100 grams. The same amount of milk chocolate contains only 15 to 16 mg! Add the sugar and you have weight gain and heightened blood glucose levels, which pushes you closer to heart disease and diabetes. Just take a trip over to the local store’s chocolate aisle and compare the percentage of cocoa present and the amount of sugar. The difference is quite dramatic.
Harvard Medical School recommends: “To get the health advantages of cocoa flavonoids without the fat and calories, you can buy a more concentrated cocoa product. Some cocoa supplements on the market contain up to 250 milligrams of cocoa flavonoids per serving. If you do want to indulge in a small piece of chocolate each day, make it dark. The higher the cocoa content of the bar, the better it is for your health (look for bars with 70% cocoa or more).”
So choose your chocolate wisely. Consider skipping the boxed chocolates and try this healthier treat for Valentine’s Day.
Recipe: Frozen Bananas With Dark Chocolate and Chopped Almonds
- 1 Cup dark chocolate chips of choice (Lily’s is a brand that is Stevia-sweetened)
- 4 Whole bananas
- 1 Cup chopped almonds
- 8 Wooden craft sticks
- Wax paper
- Cookie sheet
- Line the cookie sheet with wax paper and set aside.
- Peel the bananas and cut them in half through the middle. Push the wooden craft stick through the flat end of the bananas halves to make a handle, being careful not to break the banana.
- Melt the semi-sweet chocolate chips in a shallow dish or on a plate by following the directions on the bag (if no instructions are available, melt the chips on 50% power in 30 second increments until it softens).
- Use the craft sticks to roll the bananas in the chocolate and then roll or sprinkle the bananas with finely chopped nuts and place them on the lined cookie sheet.
- Place the cookie sheet in the freezer undisturbed for at least an hour
Let us know how they turn out!
The posts on this blog are for information only, and are not intended to substitute for a doctor-patient or other healthcare professional-patient relationship nor do they constitute medical or healthcare advice of any kind. Any information in these posts should not be acted upon without consideration of primary source material and professional input from one's own healthcare professionals.