Wednesday, May 04, 2011
ROCHESTER, Minn. — Chocolate has been linked with improved blood pressure and cholesterol levels and other heart benefits. The May issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter covers which types are beneficial and how they help.
The raw cacao beans used to make chocolate products are a rich source of flavonoids — antioxidants found in plants. Flavonoid compounds, especially flavanols, are concentrated in raw cacao beans. They appear to play a protective role in heart health.
But raw beans are so bitter they are virtually inedible. Sugar and processing make chocolate products tasty. But some of that processing removes the beneficial flavanols.
As a general rule, flavanol content mirrors the level of fat-free cocoa solids in a chocolate product. Milk chocolate, with its creamy texture and mild flavor, is low on flavanols with just 6 percent fat-free cocoa solids. Dark chocolate is better, at 23 percent fat-free cocoa solids. Unsweetened cocoa tops the list at 82 percent.
Usually, the best options for high flavanol content are dark chocolate that doesn't list sugar as the first ingredient and unsweetened 100 percent cocoa powder that hasn't been alkalized (in other words, Dutch processed). If a chocolate or cocoa has been Dutch processed, the ingredient list will say that it's been processed with alkali.
The bottom line is the darker the chocolate, the better for heart health. But flavanols don't cancel out high calories. Check labels for calorie counts and serving sizes.
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