By VIRGINIA WINDER
SCIENTISTS are proving what lovers and females have known for eons – chocolate is good for the heart.
The darker the better the researchers say, because cocoa is rich with antioxidants that help prevent heart disease and strokes. These lifesaving chemicals also hunt and destroy cancer-causing free-radicals in our bodies.
New York researchers carried out a study comparison to find out the level of antioxidants in cocoa, green tea, black tea and red wine.
Cocoa won hands down. “It was almost two times stronger than red wine, two to three times stronger than green tea, and four to five times stronger than black tea,” says the Cornell University team, led by Chang Y. Lee.
Chang recommends having the top three in a day, with hot cocoa at breakfast, green tea in the afternoon and a red wine at night.
“Although you can enjoy cocoa either hot or cold, the hot version tends to trigger the release of more antioxidants than its cold counterpart.”
The researchers say it’s better to have the drink, with low-fat milk, than a chocolate bar. A 40-gram block contains about 8 grams of saturated fat, while a cup is just a fraction of that.
New Zealanders are switching on to the health benefits of cocoa-rich chocolate in a big way, says Whittaker’s marketing manager Philip Poole, Wellington.
The company introduced its 72% cocoa-infused block, Dark Ghana, just 18 months ago. “It’s our best-selling block now, which surprised us I must say,” he says.
Dark Ghana does not contain milk solids. “Which makes it very popular with people who have an allergic reaction to milk, and also with vegans,” he says, referring to the strict vegetarians.
Whittaker’s have also introduced its 62% cocoa blocks, Cacao and Mocha, which are also proving popular. “The dark chocolate sales have gone up 13% in the past year,” Poole says.
He puts the increase down to people becoming more discerning about what they eat and publicity about the health benefits of the side of dark chocolate.
“There are a number of studies that show the higher cocoa content, the higher level of flavanols that have these potential health benefits,” he says.
“They perhaps reduce the instance of heart disease and strokes. They have a similar effect to the ones in red wine,” he says.
Further studies from researchers from Germany and the United States have found the flavanol, epicatechin, which improves circulation, is prevalent in cocoa.
Harvard Medical School Professor Norman Hollenberg believes epicatechin is so important it should be considered a vitamin.
Hollenberg has spent years studying the Kuna people of Panama, who drink up to 40 cups of cocoa each week.
He discovered that the risk of stroke, heart failure, cancer and diabetes is reduced to less than 10% among the Kuna community.
“If these observations predict the future, then we can say without blushing that they are among the most important observations in the history of medicine,” Hollenberg, is reported as saying.
“We all agree that penicillin and anaesthesia are enormously important, but epichatechin could potentially get rid of four of the five most common diseases in the world.”