Leftover chocolate hearts and Hershey Kisses sat at the nurses’ table in my office. I was tempted to grab one wondering whether chocolates contained anything that would be beneficial to my health, writes Dr. Raghavendra Rao. – #Chocolate, #RaghavendraRao, #community, @Siliconeer, #Siliconeer, #health, #ProsAndConsofChocolate, #IsChocolateGoodforYou, #Comfortfood

Recent studies have shown that chocolate contains flavanols that are helpful to our cardiovascular health. Flavanols are chemicals similar to those found in tea, fruits, and red wine. Cocoa flavanols are found to cause dilatation of blood vessels, reduce damage to them, and delay blood clotting.

In laboratories, cocoa flavanols produced vascular dilatation by increasing nitric oxide, which relaxes the smooth muscle in blood vessels. Dr. Carl Keen, professor of nutrition at the University of California at Davis, has studied populations that consume foods rich in flavanols. One such population with a high intake of cocoa flavanols in their diet has low blood pressure, which is beneficial.

Scientists from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia studied the long-term effects of cocoa on platelet function. Platelets help to stop bleeding from a cut. However, under certain conditions, platelets adhere and form clots inside a blood vessel, which may lead to a heart attack or a stroke. In a preliminary study, the scientists evaluated 32 healthy individuals by offering them 234 mgs. of cocoa flavanols to consume daily. After four weeks, platelet aggregation and clotting were significantly lower in the group that consumed cocoa flavanols, compared to the group that consumed the placebo.

Flavanols have a good effect on cholesterol as well. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is known as bad cholesterol; in elevated levels it damages blood vessels, promotes clot formation, and predisposes one to heart attacks and strokes. However, for LDL to have a detrimental effect on blood vessels, it must first be oxidized, and that is where chocolate has a beneficial effect. Laboratory experiments at UC Davis have shown that cocoa flavanols inhibit the oxidation of LDL and so prevent blood vessel damage.

In a recent study published in the journal Appetite, Georgie Crichton showed that cocoa flavanols improved memory and abstract reasoning in humans. However, chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine, both of which probably contributed for the improved brain function.

Many flavanols are destroyed during the processing of cocoa beans. However, Mars Incorporated has a method of cocoa processing that preserves flavanols. An ounce of dark chocolate is a reasonable amount consume daily. Excessive indulgence will cause undesirable weight gain due to its fat and sugar content.

I pondered over these studies. Overall, it seems that chocolate is good for our health. I felt that one piece of chocolate would not do me any harm. I popped a Hershey Kiss in my mouth and savored it!