By: Lara Shapiro
Many may agree that chocolate is good for the soul, but has anyone ever told you that chocolate may also be good for your health? Although it may sound too good to be true, recent studies have been investigating this notion further, and lucky for the chocolate lovers, there in fact IS some truth to it!
The use of cacao (a seed from which cocoa is made) for health benefits dates back at least 3,000 years when it was believed by some cultures to be a gift from the gods. Scientists have learned that the main benefits of cacao come from epicatechin. Epicatechin is a polyphenol, which is a group of chemicals that may be linked to lowering risks of cancer and cardiovascular diseases, slowing down aging, improving neurological function, and boosting one’s immune system.
More specifically, epicatechin is a flavanol, a subgroup of polyphenols, and it is a powerful antioxidant found in cacao. One study that reviewed the effects of cacao flavanols on cardiovascular health found evidence of a strong association between these flavanols and increased flow-mediated vasodilation (the widening of blood vessels), and a moderate association between the flavanols and improvement in blood glucose and lipid metabolism.
It must be noted however, that cacao is much more abundant in dark chocolate, whereas milk chocolate or even white chocolate do not contain significant amounts of cacao, and therefore do not contain significant amounts of flavanols. This is because only the manufacturing of dark chocolate retains epicatechin, while the manufacturing of milk chocolate does not.
So this Valentine’s Day, treat yourself to some dark chocolate! It will make both you and your heart smile.
Vlachojannis, J., Erne, P., Zimmermann, B., & Chrubasik-Hausmann, S. (2016). The impact of cocoa flavanols on cardiovascular health. Phytotherapy Research, 30(10), 1641-1657. 10.1002/ptr.5665