By Sayer Ji
Contributing writer for Wake Up World
Studies point out that chocolate may not only make life sweet but also helps lengthen it. Chocolate isn’t a recent invention; its health benefits date back to ancient times, when the Aztecs made a chocolate drink from the cacao bean.
The antioxidant content of chocolate, with a 41-gram (g) piece containing about the same amount of phenol as a glass of red wine, may explain some of its health-boosting potential.[i] Phenols in cacao can inhibit free radicals and help build immunity. From having a potentially longer life to attaining a leaner body, chocolate may be both a smart and delicious natural intervention.
Chocolate As an Anti-Obesity Treat
A March 2021 study investigated how adding 10 g of cocoa-rich chocolate to the diet of postmenopausal women every day would affect their body composition.[ii]
The six-month randomized trial divided the subjects into two: the intervention group, which received 10 g daily of 99% cocoa chocolate as part of their habitual diet, and the control group, which did not receive any intervention. The quantity of chocolate received by the first group included 65.4 milligrams (mg) of polyphenols.
Measuring factors involving body composition, the intervention reflected a favorable decrease in the intervention group when it came to body fat mass and body fat percentage (as analyzed in the trunk, arms and legs), with an insignificant reduction in body mass index.
The researchers noted, “Daily addition of 10 g of cocoa-rich chocolate to the habitual diet of postmenopausal women reduces their body fat mass and body fat percentage without modifying their weight.” In a separate study, cacao derivatives were analyzed in animal models for five weeks.[iii]
The researchers found that the treatments significantly slashed body weight by 39%, systolic blood pressure by 27%, triglycerides by 55%, total cholesterol by 24%, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) by 37% and triglycerides/high-density lipoprotein (HDL) ratio by 54%. The cacao derivatives improved the metabolic function of the subjects without leading to secondary effects, the team added.
Chocolate As a Heart-Healthy Food
Flavonols, which are plant-derived polyphenolic compounds in cocoa, have been linked to improved endothelial function and blood pressure in humans. A March 2021 study explored the impact of consumption of cocoa flavonols on stress-induced changes on humans’ vascular function.[iv]
The study recruited 30 healthy men to consume a cocoa beverage 1.5 hours before an eight-minute mental stress task, assessing forearm blood flow, blood pressure and cardiovascular activity before and after, both at rest and during stress.
In the results, cocoa increased forearm blood flow at rest and during stress, with similar effects on stress-induced cardiovascular and blood pressure responses in both situations. Key to the outcomes are flavanols, which effectively counteract endothelial dysfunction and enhanced peripheral blood flow during stress, the authors concluded.
But how much chocolate should lead to these benefits? A meta-analysis of 23 studies with 405,304 participants showed that reduced cardiovascular disease risk may occur with less than 100 g (about 3.5 ounces) of weekly consumption.[v] Higher levels may negate the benefits and cause adverse effects associated with high sugar intake.
Chocolate As a Longevity Promoter
How about the relationship between eating chocolate and mortality? Research published in July 2021 examined this link in a U.S. population, studying some 91,891 participants ages 55 to 74.[vi] The researchers assessed the subjects’ chocolate consumption through a food frequency questionnaire. With an average follow-up of 13.5 years, they documented 19,586 all-cause deaths.
The lowest risk for dying from all-cause mortality was seen at a chocolate intake of 0.7 servings per week and from cardiovascular events at 0.6 servings a week. The benefits were more pronounced in subjects who never smoked compared to current or former smokers.
While the exact causes of aging are yet to be clearly understood, research suggests that telomeres are connected to the aging process. A study, for instance, found a strong correlation between telomere shortening rate and the lifespan of species like humans.[vii]
Interestingly, research found that adolescents who consumed two servings per week or more of chocolate candy have longer leukocyte telomere length compared with non-consumers, possibly due to its effect on the apolipoprotein A1 (ApoA1)/HDL pathway.[viii] In a 2008 study, cocoa also demonstrated antioxidant, pro-oxidative and metal-chelating properties on the common fruit fly.[ix]
In choosing to use chocolate for the pro-weight loss, pro-longevity benefits, it’s important to consume the right kind:
- Dark and Raw — The darker, the better as this means less sugar is added in the mix. Go for at least 70% cacao content, favoring raw cacao because more flavanols are preserved.
- Organic — This helps you avoid residues of the herbicide glyphosate and other pesticides used in conventional farming.
- Fair Trade — Cacao crops are often unfairly traded and even associated with the use of child slaves.
Read more scientific studies on the benefits of cocoa or chocolate and how this celebrated health food, in the right amounts and form, may serve as a sweet strategy against disease and premature death, at GreenMedInfo.com.
Sources and References:
[i] Lee I “Life is sweet: candy consumption and longevity” BMJ. 1998 Dec 19; 317(7174): 1683–1684.
[ii] Garcia-Yu I et al “Cocoa-rich chocolate and body composition in postmenopausal women: a randomised clinical trial” Br J Nutr. 2021 Mar 14;125(5):548-556. doi: 10.1017/S0007114520003086. Epub 2020 Aug 4.
[iii] Hidalgo I et al “Obesity and Cardiovascular Risk Improvement Using Cacao By-Products in a Diet-Induced Obesity Murine Model” J Med Food. 2019 Jun ;22(6):567-577. Epub 2019 Apr 25.
[iv] Baynham R et al “Cocoa Flavanols Improve Vascular Responses to Acute Mental Stress in Young Healthy Adults” Nutrients. 2021 Mar 27;13(4):1103.
[v] Ren Y et al “Chocolate consumption and risk of cardiovascular diseases: a meta-analysis of prospective studies” Heart. 2018 Jul 30. Epub 2018 Jul 30.
[vi] Zhong G et al “Chocolate consumption and all-cause and cause-specific mortality in a US population: a post hoc analysis of the PLCO cancer screening trial” Aging (Albany NY). 2021 Jul 29;13(14):18564-18585. doi: 10.18632/aging.203302. Epub 2021 Jul 29.
[vii] Whittemore K et al “Telomere shortening rate predicts species life span” PNAS. 2019 Jul 23;116(30):15122-7.
[viii] Chen L et al “Higher chocolate intake is associated with longer telomere length among adolescents” Pediatr Res. 2019 Oct 1. Epub 2019 Oct 1.
[ix] Bahadorani S et al “Cocoa confers life span extension in Drosophila melanogaster” Nutr Res. 2008 Jun;28(6):377-82.
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- The Power and Mystery of Melanin Explained
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- 7 Healing Uses for Lavender Essential Oil
- From Table to Tomb: Cumin’s Health Benefits Rediscovered
- Why You Should Ditch Sugar in Favour of Honey
- The Love Affair Between Saffron and Humanity: As Ancient as Time Itself
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About the author:
Sayer Ji is the founder of Greenmedinfo.com, a reviewer at the International Journal of Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine, Co-founder and CEO of Systome Biomed, Vice Chairman of the Board of the National Health Federation, and Steering Committee Member of the Global Non-GMO Foundation.
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