Let’s face it. Many of us love chocolate. Yet, we may have reserved it as a once in a while treat because it has traditionally fallen into the “bad choice” category of sweets. With the results of recent research coming out of Sweden though, many chocolate lovers are going to be reunited with their former love. In doing so, they’re also going to lower their risk of stroke. Here’s why.
Chocolate: A Superfood in a Sweet Package
Well, technically, it’s cacao, or cocoa, from which chocolate is made that’s the heart healthy, stroke preventing superfood. The more cocoa that’s in a chocolate product – 30% in milk chocolate to 90% in dark chocolate – the more benefit derived. Researchers at Sweden’s Karolinska Institut have proven in 2 studies – one in 2011 and one this year – that people who ate the most chocolate (hence, cocoa) had decreased incidence of stroke.
In the latest report, the group of men studied showed a decreased risk of 17%. Their chocolate intake was in the form of a once a week 2.2 ounce chocolate bar over a period of about 10 years. Although the study did not state which type of chocolate the men ate – milk or dark – the study relates that 90% of chocolate consumed in Sweden is milk chocolate. We might assume, then, that the men likely ate milk chocolate. In the previous study done a year ago, men and women had a combined decreased risk of 19%.
What is it about chocolate, or cocoa, that could cause these stroke-prevention results?
Cocoa contains flavonoids, which act as both antioxidants that destroy free radicals as well as lower blood pressure and increase HDL, or “good”, cholesterol. More importantly, flavonoids act to improve arterial function. They also thin blood which can prevent clots from forming – a primary cause of heart attack and stroke. Dark chocolate typically has more flavonoid content.
The researchers also pointed out, though, that these results might also be due to the participants’ healthy lifestyles of exercising and not smoking. The researchers also did not recommend that people go out and start eating several chocolate bars a week to derive the heart/stroke benefits. Regular chocolate bars can contain a fair amount of fat and sugar – both of which can lead to obesity that can derail any of chocolate’s potential benefits.
Make Chocolate Even More Health-Friendly
The findings of the Swedish research are impressive as well as another study out of Melbourne, Australia not long ago. That study showed that people who regularly consumed dark chocolate in the form of bars, or cups of cocoa, had lower blood pressure. I have been recommending pure unsweetened cocoa, and/or dark chocolate bars, to my patients for some time. My suggestion is to drink a mug full of cocoa made from unsweetened cocoa – the type you bake with – adding either soy milk or almond milk, and stevia to sweeten (see my recipe below). Cocoa also has a fair amount of magnesium in it which also helps decrease stroke and heart attack risk. Many Americans are deficient in magnesium as well. According to Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, author of The Magnesium Miracle, for every 100 mg of magnesium intake, risk of stroke is decreased by 8%.
Additionally, there are organic chocolate bars available in health food stores, as well as grocery and specialty stores throughout the country, that do not contain all the butterfat of regular “candy” chocolate bars or the caffeine. They are more often made with healthier coconut or red palm oil and also use more glycemic friendly sweeteners like stevia, Agave, or even Xylitol.
Some good brands that make high cocoa content, stevia sweetened chocolate bars are Green and Black, Lily’s, Dante’s Confections, Chakralat or Lucienne’s.
Here’s one of my favorite recipes for healthy cocoa:
1. 3 tablespoons of unsweetened Hershey baking cocoa in a large mug
2. Add 8-10 ounces of warmed (don’t boil) unsweetened almond milk (the thicker refrigerated type). Or, you can use filtered water too.
3. 1 tsp vanilla added to the liquid.
4. 2 tablespoons granulated Stevia-in-the Raw added to the liquid.
5. Stir liquid well, making sure to stir up any chocolate from the bottom of the mug. Mixture should be a dark, thicker reddish brown liquid.
6. Optional: Add a spritz or 2 of Reddi-Whip whipped cream.
7. Optional: Add lots of cinnamon sprinkled on.
Enjoy this cocoa recipe about ½ hour before you want to go to sleep. It will help relax you to fall asleep more easily.
Like all good things – enjoy chocolate responsibly. Continue to eat an optimal nutrition diet including good amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids, get regular exercise and sleep, don’t smoke and limit alcohol. All these things can help reduce your risk of stroke and/or heart disease.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.