Is Chocolate Heart Healthy?
Wouldn’t it be nice to eat chocolate every day as part of a heart healthy, Paleo diet? I, for one, would be thrilled. But don’t run out to the gas station and load up on Hershey Bars just yet. Let’s talk about this.
Many studies have found chocolate to be heart healthy. Read on to find out the secret ingredient that is the key to the success of chocolate.
See below for our recommended cacao/chocolate products.
Chocolate is made up of cacao, sugar, and usually some kind of oil. Historically, it was coconut oil. Milk chocolate has added dairy. Cacao comes from the seeds of a tree that grows in a few specific tropical regions of the world, mostly Mexico and South America. It is the base ingredient in most forms of chocolate.
But why not skip the sugar and eat the cacao in its raw state, before any additional sugars (sugars are the root of food evil) are added to dark chocolate, white chocolate and all other types? Adding dairy to create milk chocolate is even worse.
The truth is that raw cacao has many nutrients and proven health benefits. The raw cacao state is the form we should eat. I do not recommend consuming any other forms of chocolate. Cacao is considered to be a rich source of antioxidants such as procyanidins and flavanoids, which may impart anti-aging properties. It also contains a high level of flavonoids, specifically epicatechin, which may have beneficial cardiovascular effects. Other health benefits of raw cacao include:
- Increases nitric oxide dependent vasodilation (1), which is good for your blood pressure.
- Increases coronary flow (2), which helps your heart.
- Decrease platelet reactivity (2), which reduces your risk of coronary events.
- Decreased oxidative stress (2). This helps prevent cellular and cholesterol damage.
- Lower blood pressure (3,4), which reduces your risks of heart disease, kidney disease, eye problems and even some forms of dementia.
- Decreased mortality (4), which means you live longer.
- Improves insulin resistance and lowers insulin levels (5), two components of diabetes which is linked to just about every disease.
Our Paleo ancestors would not have come across the cacao bean too often. Yet the Kuna tribe of Panama consume a high amount of raw cacao and have very low rates of heart disease and cancer. We cannot give cacao all the credit for the health of these people, as they are modern day hunter-gatherers, reaping all the rewards of that lifestyle.
Some people are sensitive to theobromine, the caffeine-like substance present in cacao. They experience anxiety and palpitations from chocolate. Of course, some of this effect may be from the sugar.
I get cacao into my diet during breakfast by occasionally adding it to my nut, seed, and coconut flake combo along with nut milk. This makes for an excellent low carb “cereal”.
Dark chocolate is typically found as a percentage of cacao. The higher the %, the lower the sugar, the more heart healthy. Eat only raw cacao that you can find in “nib” or powder form from a variety of online and natural food stores. And of course, only eat ORGANIC chocolate and cacao.
- Fisher ND. Flavanol-rich cocoa induces nitric-oxide-dependent vasodilation in healthy humans. J Hypertens. 2003; 21: 2281–2286
- Flammer AJ. Dark chocolate improves coronary vasomotion and reduces platelet reactivity. Circulation. 2007; 116:2376–2382
- Taubert. Arch Intern Med. 2007;167(7):626-634
- Buijsse. Arch Intern Med. 2006;166(4):411-417
- Am J Clin Nutr. 2015 May;101(5):914-21