This Saturday at our meeting 2/16 @ noon @ HCF: Paleo Pitch-in. The food challenge for the pitch-in is *Chocolate* If you use dark chocolate or cocoa powder in a Main Dish or Side Dish you have a chance to win a $15 Olive Leaf gift certificate! Winner is chosen by most votes!!! If you make a dessert, you have a chance to win a bag of chocolate flavored warrior cereal. Winner will also be determined by most votes.
But why should/can we include dark chocolate in our diets?
Dark chocolate contains healthy fats.
Cocoa butter, which is extracted from the cacao bean and incorporated into most reputable dark chocolate bars, is mostly monounsaturated and saturated fat, with very little polyunsaturated fat. And because most of that saturated fat is stearic acid, widely known for having neutral effects on LDL, even avowed lipophobes can happily and heartily gobble up cacao fat.
Dark chocolate contains lots of polyphenols, particularly flavanols.
When it comes to polyphenol content and antioxidant capacity, cacao trounces the “superfruits” acai, pomegranate, cranberry, blueberry and whatever else your annoying friend who always falls for multilevel marketing schemes is hawking this week. The most studied polyphenol in cacao is epicatechin, a flavanol. Although last week’s post on the benefits of polyphenol consumption centered on pigment-derived antioxidants, cacao’s polyphenols are also quite potent and potentially healthful.
Dark chocolate and blood pressure.
Epidemiological studies pretty consistently show that dark chocolate consumption is related to lower blood pressure readings. In Jordan, among Kuna Indians living in Panama, among pregnant women, and among elderly Dutch, this holds true. Some studies suggest that the flavonoids are key. Although the polyphenols undoubtedly contribute more to the cause than the five grams or so of soluble fiber you’ll get in the average serving of dark chocolate.
Dark chocolate and cardiovascular disease.
In humans, both with normal and elevated cholesterol levels, eating cocoa powder mixed with hot water lowered oxidized LDL and ApoB (LDL particle number, which, if you remember my post on lipid panels, you want to lower) counts while increasing HDL. All three doses of high-flavanol cocoa powder – 13, 19.5, and 26 g/day – proved beneficial. If you’re wondering, 26 grams of powder is about a quarter cup. It also works if you drink it with milk (and no, Hershey’s syrup doesn’t work the same). Given the effects of chocolate on lipid peroxidation, we can probably surmise that it will also lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. And indeed, epidemiological studies suggest that this is the case.
Dark chocolate and insulin resistance.
For fifteen days, hypertensive, glucose-intolerant patients received either 100 daily grams of high-polyphenol dark chocolate or 100 daily grams of zero-polyphenol white chocolate. Diets were isocaloric, and nothing differed between the groups besides the type of chocolate. Dark chocolate improved beta cell function, lowered blood pressure, increased insulin sensitivity, and improved endothelial function, while white chocolate did none of those things.
Dark chocolate and fatty liver.
Rats with fatty liver evince higher levels of oxidative stress and inflammation, but cocoa supplementation partially attenuated these pathological changes – even in choline-deficient rats. While cocoa wasn’t enough to fully resolve fatty liver, the researchers concluded that cocoa may be of therapeutic benefit in “less severe” forms of fatty liver.
Dark chocolate and UV damage.
Resistance to UV damage is commonly measured by MED – minimal erythema dose. A higher MED means greater resistance to UV rays, while a lower MED indicates lower resistance. High MED, good. Low MED, bad. Seeing as how most of chocolate’s benefits stem from the polyphenol content, and most of the studies that saw large effects used “high-flavanol” dark chocolate, you should be gunning for chocolate with high polyphenol counts. Dutch processed, or alkalized, chocolate lightens the color, removes some of the bitter compounds, and gives it a milder taste. Awesome for Hershey’s Kisses, but awful for the flavanol content. Those “bitter compounds,” you see, are the flavanols. Without the bitterness (which I think of as complexity), you’re missing most of the beneficial polyphenols. It might taste good, but it won’t perform all of the aforementioned physiological tasks.