Convenience store customers are more health conscious than ever before, and often look for healthy alternatives when selecting a treat. Dark chocolate is often perceived by customers to be a healthier choice compared to other candy options, but is there any truth to this idea?
A little dark chocolate a day might keep the doctor away, according to a number of medical studies conducted around the world. Researchers found that dark chocolate may positively affect several major cardiovascular risk factors, reducing the risk of heart disease and other conditions.
BMJ, an international publication for healthcare professionals, reported that consuming dark chocolate (at least 60% cocoa solids) might help lower the risk of developing heart disease by one-third. Canadian studies revealed that people who ate one serving of chocolate per week were 22% less likely to experience a stroke than those who did not. Those who ate about two ounces were 46% less likely to die from a stroke.
Harvard University researchers reported findings that a square of dark chocolate a day may help lower blood pressure, particularly in individuals with hypertension, and increase insulin sensitivity, which may lower the risk of diabetes. They also found evidence of a small increase in LDL (“good”) cholesterol and a “significant” decrease in HDL (“bad”) cholesterol.
Professional and novice athletes may benefit from adding a little chocolate to their diets. A study published in The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition suggested that the chocolate might boost oxygen availability during fitness training.
Cocoa contains antioxidant compounds called flavanols that destroy free radicals, destructive molecules that can play a role in causing cardiovascular and other diseases. The higher the level of cocoa in the chocolate, the higher the level of flavanols, but 60% to 70% is usually prescribed because levels much higher make the chocolate more bitter.
Cocoa solids, a key ingredient of chocolate, contains minerals including calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and zinc. It is also a rich source of fiber.
To prevent excessive calorie consumption, most health professionals suggest eating one ounce of chocolate per day. In a May 2008 research study, Mintel reported that most Americans who are consuming dark chocolate are ages 55 and older.
Of the participants who bought chocolate for themselves over the past year, two-thirds of those ages 55+ said they chose dark chocolate. That number soared to 75% for those ages 65 and over.