Is eating chocolate good for the heart? A neutral follow-up.

Mankind has been using cocoa-related foods for hundreds of years. Such food was often prepared in the form of a drink. When it comes to foods that have "cacao" as a main ingredient, chocolate cannot be missed. Through a special process, cacao seeds are converted into "cocoa" and then used to make chocolate.

In common usage, the difference between the two terms "cacao" and "cocoa" is not very clear. Most of us are familiar with the word “cocoa”. However, there is a slight difference between "cacao" and "cocoa". In fact, the plant from which the seeds are obtained for cocoa production is called “cacao (scientific name: Theobroma cacao)”. After its seeds are processed under high temperature (roasted cacao beans), it is called "cocoa".

There are still food cultures in the world that use cocoa beans without any processing. Various researches are also being conducted regarding their health benefits. In explaining the scientific basis of these health benefits, it is important to know the difference between cacao and cocoa.

Long-lived Kuna Indians

The Kuna Indians, who live on the San Blas Islands of Panama, have the lowest risk of heart disease. Even if they are old, there is no rise in blood pressure. Diabetes and even cancer conditions are rare among the Kuna Indians. However, their diet contains a lot of salt.

It is said to be equivalent to the amount of salt a person living in the United States uses in one meal. It is a fact that we generally know that excessive salt consumption causes high blood pressure. So how do the Kuna Indians maintain good blood pressure?

A group of scientists, in search of answers to this problem, identified a peculiarity in the diet of the Kuna Indians. Every day they enjoy a certain drink mixed with cocoa and a small amount of sugar, and they consume it about four times a day. This does not mean that cocoa consumption is the only factor influencing the good health of the Kuna Indians. They eat twice as much fruit and four times as much fish as a person in the United States, and lead very active lives.

Flavonoid compounds

This is where the difference between cacao and cocoa comes to the fore. Cacao beans that have not been processed at high temperatures have a higher nutritional value and a slightly bitter taste. When cacao beans are processed at high temperatures (turned into cocoa), some of the nutritional value may be removed, but the bitterness is minimized. Because of this, cacao seeds or cacao processed under high temperature are often used to produce chocolate.

The most important factor that determines the nutritional quality of cocoa beans is the group of chemical compounds called flavonoids. This group of compounds is found in certain berries and even the tea plant, and flavonoids are said to reduce the risk of dying from heart disease. Ingesting 400-500 mg of flavonoid compounds contained in cacao seeds has been found to reduce blood pressure and body inflammation. That is why flavonoids are said to reduce the risk of dying from heart disease.

It appears that all these facts can be connected with the Kuna Indians. Due to the way cacao seeds are used in their diet, the health benefits of flavonoids have been maximized.

Is chocolate good for the heart?

Can't we experience the health benefits discussed above through chocolate?

There is no direct answer to this question. Although the cocoa used for chocolate contains some amount of flavonoids, the concentration of flavonoids can vary depending on the other ingredients used to make the chocolate and the differences in the manufacturing process.

In one study, researchers monitored the diet and health status of about twenty thousand people, and they concluded that eating about 100 grams of chocolate a day reduced the risk of heart disease and stroke. The researchers also did not forget to control other factors that reduce those risks. Among the factors controlled for were smoking and exercise levels.

However, it does not mean that only the factor "chocolate consumption" affects the reduction of the risk of heart disease and stroke in the research setting. Body composition and lifestyle may influence it, and chocolate may provide additional support in reducing those disease risks.

A dash of chocolate is better

In order to achieve the health benefits of chocolate, one must be careful about the amount consumed. Because people who eat a lot of chocolate may be less concerned about their body weight, no amount of flavonoid intake will help. The next important point is the extent to which the flavonoid concentration depends on the type of chocolate in the product. For example, eating chocolate that is high in fat and sugar content is unlikely to provide the desired health benefits. Also, the way cacao is harvested, processed and the manufacturing process directly affects the flavonoid content.

All the above factors will be better if a good quality chocolate product can be used. That's why one should pay more attention to chocolate. We are now a 

Let's take a look at how dark chocolate differs from other types of chocolate.

Cocoa content

Dark chocolate is chocolate products that contain no or very little milk as an ingredient. They range in cocoa content from 50%-90% and are produced with limited ingredients such as a little sugar, soy lecithin and sometimes a flavoring such as vanilla.

Commonly found "milk chocolate" has a cocoa content in the range of 10%-50%. Dark chocolates have a slightly bitter taste due to this high cocoa content. However, the higher the cocoa content, the higher the concentration of flavonoids in the product. Therefore, eating dark chocolate may have more health benefits than eating milk chocolate.

Even dark chocolate has problems with the quality of the manufacturing process. Although the cocoa content can be increased, the changes in taste may change the consumer appeal of chocolate products. Therefore, even da(r) chocolates have to incorporate some sugar, sweeteners and other value additions into the manufacturing process. Then the effect of flavonoid content may be masked to some extent.

How much to eat?

According to the European Food Standards Authority, it is better to ingest 200 mg of flavonoid compounds contained in cocoa, which is enough to eat about 10 grams of chocolate per day. According to recent data, if we can get about 500 mg of cocoa-flavonoids per day, we can experience a clear difference in our health. For that, it is useful to eat less than 30 grams of flavonoid-rich chocolate. The problem is that there is no clear consensus on the amount of flavonoids in chocolate products around the world.

If a chocolate product with preserved flavonoid content can be introduced, it will be possible to popularize it as a healthy food. There are also a group of scientists who do not agree with this argument. They do not consider dark chocolate to be a complete health food because of the naturally occurring fat components in chocolate.

The dark side of chocolate

They argue that considering only the flavonoid constituents of dark chocolate cannot assess its health benefits. Chocolates often contain cocoa butter, and some of the fat they contain is reserved for saturated fat. Saturated fat is a risk factor for heart disease.

Accordingly, it appears that the fact that eating chocolate is good for the heart is a half-truth. If the concentration of flavonoids in it is maximum, the health benefits are also high. However, the higher the flavonoid concentration, the lower the sweetness of the chocolate. Because of the marketing problems that arise, chocolate manufacturers may not consider flavonoid concentration to be an important or even a major factor. A relatively high level of health benefits from flavonoids can be experienced by eating small amounts of dark chocolate.

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