Chocolate is a favorite gift to give to a loved one on Valentine’s day; however, chocolate is associated with the “affairs of the heart” in more ways than one. Chocolate contains many vitamins, minerals and other ingredients, including flavonoids. Studies have shown that flavonoids have been linked to protection against heart disease.
Where Chocolate Comes From
The source of chocolate is the cacao tree (Theobroma cacao), a small, tropical tree that is native to Central and South America. The seeds, or beans, of the cacao tree are extracted to eventually make chocolate in its various forms; cacao beans are more commonly known as cocoa beans.
The ancient Mayan people were familiar with the use of cacao beans before the Spaniards explored South America and made it popular in Europe in the 17th century. Mayan people used cacao beans as a form of currency, in addition to using the beans to make a hot chocolate drink. However, the type of chocolate drink brewed by the Mayans did not have the familiar chocolate taste that we know today; it was more bitter and contained chili peppers.
Uses of Cacao Beans
Cacao beans are used to make other products, in addition to chocolate. Cacao beans are the source of cocoa butter, a common cosmetic and massage base used in aromatherapy; cacao beans also contain medicinal properties. Uses of cacao beans in ethnobotany include as a treatment for burns and wounds, rheumatism, snake bites and as an antiseptic. However, chocolate is now gaining recognition as a preventative use for heart disease.
Flavonoids and Chocolate
Flavonoids are part of the polyphenol group of chemicals that are found in plants. They occur naturally in many plants and help plants to protect and repair themselves from potential damage and threats. Plants that are rich in flavonoids, such as cocoa beans, also help to protect the human body from potential cell damage from many of the same environmental threats and toxins when we consume them.
Chocolate contains a type of flavonoids called flavanols. According to the Salon du Chocolat website, chocolate is the richest food in flavonoids; thirteen per cent of flavonoids in the human diet comes from chocolate.
Studies on Chocolate and Heart Disease
A report on the Science Daily website states that several studies have shown that chocolate is effective in the prevention of heart disease. Findings of a study conducted by researchers at Linkoping University in Sweden and published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology showed that the consumption of dark chocolate inhibited an enzyme known to raise blood pressure. The results were the same as the effect of drugs commonly used to prevent high blood pressure.
Where to Find Flavonoids in Chocolate
However, according to the Live Science website, not every bar of chocolate contains high levels of flavanols. Most chocolate undergoes a high level of processing before it reaches the shelves in the store; processing removes a lot of the beneficial flavonoids. Dark chocolate is preferable to milk chocolate, with regard to levels of flavonols, but check the ingredients as to the “natural” ingredients a bar of chocolate contains and the likelihood of high processing levels on mass produced chocolate.
Chocolate for the Heart
Giving chocolate as a gift of love this Valentine’s day might be good for the heart in a couple of ways! Not only does it show that you care, but you might be helping to protect a loved one from potential heart disease. In addition there are many cocoa health benefits that you can get from chocolate including:
- protection against fatigue
- protection against depression
- protection against dental cavities (depending on the sweetness).
(source: Salon du Chocolat website)
- Salon du Chocolat website, Chocolate and Health
- Cleveland Clinic website, Heart-Health Benefits of Chocolate Unveiled
- Live Science website, Sweet Science: The Health Benefits of Chocolate
- Science Daily website, Why Chocolate Protects Against Heart Disease
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