#1) Love and Dark Chocolate – Great for your Heart

by: Yaakov Levine, NTP

The information provided in this article is intended to give a general overview of the topic and is not intended as medical advice. For information specific to your situation, or health concerns, please consult with your medical doctor.  

Nutritionally Speaking: Article #1, Love and Dark Chocolate – Great for your Heart

On Valentine’s Day we celebrate our love affairs with our sweethearts and chocolate and there are clear health benefits derived from both of these passionate pursuits. There are many studies supporting our resulting health and longevity when we have long term partners….often supported by news articles about couples celebrating their long term relationships. They describe their bonds and time together as a not-so-secret reason they have lived so long. Many of us proclaim that our love of and consumption of dark chocolate as another secret to our happiness and longevity.

Many modern historians have estimated that chocolate has been around for about 2000 years, but recent research suggests that it may be even older. Historians trace the origin of the word “chocolate” to the Aztec word “xocoatl,” which referred to a bitter drink brewed from cacao beans. The Latin name for the cacao tree, Theobroma cacao, means “food of the gods.”

Of course, the cacao as it was originally enjoyed is much different than the processed chocolate now generally available. Many of the chocolate products we consume, such as the many artificially flavored and sweetened products are missing the mark when it comes to being a healthy treat. These products are missing the healthy components of dark chocolate and have been proven to contribute to ill health and disease.

Research has shown that there are important antioxidants in good quality chocolate, including resveratrol, which is also found in berries and grapes. Studies show that resveratrol can increase the health and lifespan of human cells, which could have a positive effect on our longevity.

Resveratrol’s benefits include protecting our cells from free radical damage, supporting healthy blood pressure levels, promoting healthy blood vessels, slowing the aging process and supporting our immune system. There are several forms of resveratrol, and studies indicate that some of the most beneficial forms are found in dark chocolate.

Only purchase dark chocolate that does not contain any milk, because the milk diminishes the antioxidants’ benefits. Many dark chocolate bars include artificial

ingredients such as vanillin, which studies show to be a toxic ingredient to be avoided.

It is important to find chocolate products that are certified organic and sourced using “Fair Trade” methods. “Organic” chocolate’s benefits are obvious – it does not contain herbicide or pesticide residues. The Fair Trade or Fair for Life (look for the stamp) certification lets you know that the farmer was fairly compensated for the cacao beans they grew and harvested.

How much certified organic fair trade chocolate can be a healthy treat? Too much, and the sugar will negate any benefits.

Researchers in Italy found that a small amount of dark chocolate (6.7 grams) caused a decrease in inflammation, along with a reduction of 17 percent of C-reactive protein (CRP), a measure of arterial inflammation.

Based on their study, a healthy serving would be just one square of 73% Organic Dark Chocolate. Dark chocolate containing less than 70% cocoa typically has enough added sugar to negate the health benefits, so choose carefully. The better quality dark chocolates taste great and include minimal added sugar. Check out the many choices labeled 85% cacao, and since there is less sugar you can enjoy larger servings and still reap the benefits!

As the winter continues, enjoy your time with your sweethearts. Savor your dark chocolate treats in moderation and remember that Organic Fair Trade dark chocolate can be a great Heart Healthy choice as long as you do not overdo it.

At Natural Grocers in Eugene, where I am the stores’ Nutritional Health Coach, we offer free classes and free one-on-one health coaching sessions (541) 345-3300. Please “like” our Natural Grocers-Eugene Facebook page. Here is the link to our store’s (free!) class schedule: http://www.naturalgrocers.com/store-locations/eugene/OR/events  Note; starting last fall, we now offer at least three opportunities most weeks to catch a (free) class at the store, Sunday’s at 1pm, Monday’s at 1pm, and Wednesdays @ 6pm. See you then!

Born and raised in the New York area, Yaakov has made his home in Oregon since 1998. He brings his passion for healthy nutrition and herbal medicine to his practice as a Nutritional Therapist and Herbalist.

Yaakov received his certification as a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner in June 2007. He is currently the Nutritional Health Coach at Natural Grocers in Eugene. 

Yaakov Levine, NTP