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Chocolate: Go Ahead and Indulge

Posted by Mara Calomino Dec 17 2013

Chocoholics prepare to celebrate because a regular dose of chocolate has been shown to protect against high blood pressure and diabetes, as well as cut the risk of stroke by one-third.

The Good Stuff

Chocolate is made from the cocoa bean, which is rich in plant nutrients called flavonoids. Flavonoids help shield plants against toxins in the environment as well as help repair damage. Foods that contain large amounts of this plant chemical are high in antioxidant power.

Antioxidants help the body’s cells combat injury caused by free radicals which are formed through bodily processes such as breathing. If your body doesn’t have enough antioxidants to counterbalance, then oxidation damage can occur. For example, oxidation can create low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or bad cholesterol, which forms plaque on the artery walls.

Flavanols are the main type of flavonoid found in cocoa beans. They influence the vascular system by lowering blood pressure, improving blood flow to the heart and brain and making blood platelets less sticky or able to clot.

A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is cut off by a clot or other means. Increasing blood flow and decreasing clots and the risk factor of high blood pressure will help cut the risk of having a stroke.

These plant chemicals can be found in a variety of food such as fruits and vegetables, teas and red wines.

The Bad Stuff

Before you go indulging your every chocolate craving, remember that not all types of chocolate are rich in flavonoids. The chocolate you buy on the shelf at your local grocery store probably has been processed along several steps during production to reduce the strong and even bitter taste of the original cocoa. The more your chocolate is processed the more flavonoids are lost.

It has been suggested that dark chocolate is the best for you depending on how it was processed. Your best bet is to find chocolate that is high in cocoa rather than milk or other fats and sugars, which can pack on the calories. Be careful of the type of chocolate you choose—for example, chewy caramel chocolate isn’t going to be as healthy. 

Although you no longer need to feel guilty about indulging your chocolate cravings every once in a while, keep in mind that moderation is key. And don’t forget to include other flavonoid rich foods in your diet, such as apples, cranberries, onions or peanuts.

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