Wouldn't it be wonderful if chocolate and heart health went hand in hand. However, there is so much information lately about the health benefits of chocolate that it is only natural that people get a little confused.
It is true, that if people only ate pure cocoa, then there might be heart health benefits. The problem is that most people eat unhealthy processed chocolate bars containing sugar, corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, dairy cream not to mention other "baddies" contained in some of those tasty fillings. Some of these added ingredients can clog up arteries and create havoc to your waistline and lead to obesity.
That said, you might be surprised to find out that chocolate isn't all that bad. The fat content in chocolate, contained in premium grade dark chocolate, is comprised of equal amounts of oleic acid (a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat also found in olive oil), stearic and palmitic acids. Stearic and palmitic acids are forms of saturated fat - not so good. Saturated fats are linked to increases in LDL-cholesterol and risk of developing heart disease.
Research indicates that stearic acid appears to have a neutral effect on cholesterol; neither raising nor lowering LDL-cholesterol levels. So far so good. Palmitic acid on the other hand, does affect cholesterol levels but only comprises one-third of the fat calories in chocolate. Therefore, if we base our chocolate eating habits on latest research, the fat issue isn't so worrying.
Beware milk chocolate may not be so heart healthy
Like most things in life, there is a down-side to chocolate. When we eat milk chocolate or lower grade chocolate, a large part of the total fat content comes from milk fat or various other types of fat contained in the processed chocolate and fillings, and not from the pure cocoa, which do adversely affect cholesterol levels. This is especially true with a large slice of chocolate cake!
Despite all the good news on cocoa not raising LDL cholesterol, even dark chocolate is a very calorie-dense food, so while the fat content may not invite heart disease or clogging of the arteries, its regular consumption will add a lot of extra calories to someone's daily total. In fact, many chocolate bars list sugar as the number one ingredient. And as we all know lots of white refined sugar is not going to help you keep your waistline nice and slim. Remember obesity is a serious risk factor for developing heart disease.
Concerning cholesterol, new and yet-to-be-published studies are showing that some antioxidants contained in chocolate, in particular dark chocolate and cocoa powder, may actually increase "good" (HDL) cholesterol levels by as much as 10 percent.
In the studies, the selected people ate 22 grams of cocoa powder and 16 grams of dark chocolate every day The result: Their "bad" (LDL) cholesterol was less susceptible to oxidation, a process that normally leads to artery-clogging plaques. While many people take vitamins and other antioxidants to help prevent plaque development, the study shows that cocoa could help.
In summary, whether chocolate and heart health do walk hand in hand is still an open topic, however, in moderation it won't do your heart any harm, however, watch those calories. Most of all, enjoy it cause it tastes so good!