Chocolate: Is it good for you?

By Perrin Braun Oct 10, 2012


Do you love chocolate? If so, you may be excited by recent news about your favorite treat. Several studies have suggested that chocolate is good for recovery from exercise, heart health, even losing weight. Before you grab the nearest Hershey bar, though, it’s important to learn more about chocolate.image

Does chocolate improve heart health?

The cocoa beans that make up your chocolate bar contain potent antioxidants that can reduce the cellular damage that contributes to poor heart health. Antioxidants help your body’s cells repair the damage caused by free radicals, such as cigarette smoke, pollution, pesticides in food and other toxins. The antioxidants that are found in chocolate are called flavanols, which have been shown to lower blood pressure, improve blood flow, and improve overall heart health.  In the past year, three scientific reviews have concluded that cocoa is good for your heart. Researchers believe that flavanols work by stimulating production of nitric oxide, which improves blood flow and relaxes blood vessels.

However, the amount of flavanols in cocoa powder and chocolate varies. Although manufacturers don’t list the flavanol content on the nutrition facts, the label does give you information that can help you in figuring out the flavanol levels..  Milk chocolate consists mainly of sugar, milk, and other ingredients, and can contain as little as 10% cocoa paste by weight. On the other hand, dark chocolate typically contains 50-60% cocoa paste by weight. Essentially, the higher percentage of cocoa a chocolate bar contains, the more flavanols –and antioxidant power — it has.

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While dark chocolate generally contains more antioxidant-power than the other commercial varieties, processing can affect the amount of flavanols in chocolate. Dutch processing treats the cocoa with an alkali to neutralize its natural acidity, and may also reduce the amount of flavanols a bar of chocolate contains. So, if you’re looking for chocolate with more antioxidants, check into how the manufacturer processes chocolate. The InsideTracker Performance Plan tests your levels of inflammation and provides suggestions for incorporating antioxidants, such as dark chocolate, in your diet! 

Can chocolate milk boost athletic performance?

For athletes who are in the market for a recovery drink, chocolate milk isn’t the first option that comes to mind. However, the beverage that had previously been relegated to children is now being touted by studies that suggest the beverage can help athletes recover during training sessions. Why chocolate milk and not just regular milk? Chocolate milk contains more carbohydrates than regular milk.

Carbohydrates help to re-fuel your body with the energy that it needs for your next workout. Carbohydrates are one of your body’s best fuel sources due to the efficient way they use oxygen. In fact, they use less oxygen for every kilocalorie of energy produced than either fats or proteins, which make them an important part of your diet if you are physically active, especially if you are an endurance athlete. Chocolate milk also provides protein, which your body needs to repair muscle damage. An adequate supply of protein will help your muscles recover from workout stress, especially if you engage in weight-bearing exercise, such as weight-training or jogging. In addition to these important macronutrients, chocolate milk also contains sodium and potassium, two electrolytes that are essential for muscle recovery.

Can eating chocolate help you lose weight?

What about the claims that eating chocolate helps you lose weight? A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine suggested that the flavanols can have a weight-lowering effect, as the greater frequency of chocolate consumption was associated with a lower body mass index (BMI). However, this study did not ask what type of chocolate was eaten, even though dark chocolate contains more flavanols than milk or white chocolate.

In addition, many commercial brands of chocolate contain large amounts of fat, sugar, and calories. If you’re going to eat chocolate, opt for dark chocolate that contains a cocoa content of 65% or higher, and enjoy it in moderation! Unfortunately for choco-holics, even 3 ounces can provide up to 450 calories, so either eat it as an occasional treat or step up your exercise regimen to avoid weight gain!

Increasing interest in the health benefits of chocolate has led to the founding of the International Society of Chocolate and Cocoa in Medicine. With the first international meeting scheduled for December 2012, expect to hear more about how chocolate can affect your fitness and well-being!

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