Cocoa Makes the Heart Grow Fonder
Chocolate and hearts go hand-in-hand, and not just on Valentine’s Day. A little chocolate every day will keep your heart beating for years to come.
Flavanols get high-fives for fighting heart disease. That’s what two separate studies proved when they tested cocoa drinks on healthy adults up to 80 years old. Participants drank beverages with or without cocoa flavanols twice a day for either two or four weeks. At the end of both studies, those who drank the real cocoa showed one or more of the following:
lower blood pressure
better blood flow
lower bad LDL cholesterol and higher good HDL cholesterol
flexible blood vessels
lower risk of heart disease
According to researcher Malte Kelm, cardiology professor at University Hospital Düsseldorf, cocoa can have long-term benefits for your heart. “Our results indicate that dietary flavanol intake reduces the 10-year risk of being diagnosed with CVD (cardiovascular disease) by 22 percent and the 10-year risk of suffering a heart attack by 31 percent,” he says.
Cocoa tops the charts for heart benefits. Based on previous studies, scientists know cocoa flavanols help people who are at high risk or who already have heart disease. These two studies focused on low-risk adults with no signs of heart problems. As you can see, the results show flavanols benefit healthy adults, too.
So no matter what group you fall into — healthy, at-risk, or diagnosed with heart disease — you can drink cocoa to your heart’s content. But before you raid the pantry for your favorite hot cocoa mix, listen up. It’s the natural, unsweetened powder that’s good for you, not the sugary stuff you top with marshmallows and whipped cream on cold, wintry nights.
Unsweetened cocoa powder contains the highest number of flavanols and won’t add inches to your waist. One tablespoon has only 12 calories. Other chocolate products have fewer flavanols because of the way they’re processed.
Ranked from highest to lowest in flavanols are cocoa powder, baking chocolate, dark chocolate or baking chips, milk chocolate, and chocolate syrup. Notice the pattern? The sweeter the chocolate, the fewer nutrients it contains.
More cocoa? Yes, please! Finding ways to add unsweetened cocoa to your diet is the best way to boost your flavanol intake. These ideas will get you started.
Mix frozen banana slices and cocoa powder in a blender until smooth for a creamy treat.
Make granola bars with rolled oats, your favorite nut butter, a little honey or agave syrup, chopped nuts or seeds, and a dusting of cocoa powder.
Sprinkle over popcorn while you catch up on your favorite flicks.
Add a tablespoon to a pot of beef stew or chili.
Toss cocoa powder in with your homemade barbecue sauce, and baste it on grilled chicken.
- FC&A Staff Writer