I have long recommended eating dark chocolate in my Anti-Inflammatory Food Pyramid, and with good reason: dark chocolate provides polyphenols with high antioxidant activity, and of all the chocolates, has fewer unhealthy fats and sugars. Recent research is also showing that eating a few pieces of dark chocolate each week (choose 70 percent or higher pure cocoa solids) is a heart-healthy treat too, as it can:
- Fight free radicals. Plant foods rich in flavonoids and antioxidants are beneficial to humans: antioxidants protect our cells from damage caused by free radicals, which have been linked to heart disease and other health concerns. Dark chocolate comes from the cacao plant, which provides these compounds.
- Help prevent heart disease. British researchers looked at seven studies that focused on chocolate and cardiac health. Their findings suggest that people who ate more chocolate reduced their risk for heart disease: those who ate dark chocolate weekly had a 37 percent lower risk of any heart disease than those who ate the least amounts.
- Raise good (HDL) cholesterol. The cocoa butter in dark chocolate is heart-healthy monounsaturated fat that scientists believe can raise HDL, or good, cholesterol.
Dark chocolate also decreases the risk of stroke - Swedish researchers found that women who ate high amounts of chocolate - the equivalent of about two candy bars per week - had a 20 percent lower risk of stroke; British researchers found the number to be closer to 30 percent. Before you start loading up on candy bars, be aware that more studies are needed to determine what amount and type of chocolate is best.