Healthy chocolate does it exist? 

The Good Life Letter

Friday 2nd September 2011

  • Can healthy chocolate be good for the heart?
  • Heed the old Collin's sayings...they are all you need for a healthy life.

With the Bank Holiday a fast-fading memory I really am in need of a bit of cheering up.

My mood isn't helped by the frenzy of activity (and expense) of getting the kids ready for a new school year.

In times of need I usually resort to an old favourite pick-me-up - chocolate.

And this week I found yet another reason to enjoy a square or two of this sugary confectionary - healthy chocolate.

You see there has just been a report published which says that by eating healthy chocolate I may well live forever...well maybe a bit of an exaggeration, but it will keep my ticker going for longer.

I've told you about the healthy attributes of chocolate several times, but I am not one to shy away from a good news story that plays to my sweet tooth!

This survey was published online in the British Medical Journal, following a presentation made at the European Society of Cardiology meeting in Paris - so it has been through the proper scientific processes.

The conclusion was that of the 100,000 people included in the trial those who ate most chocolate reported fewer problems with their cardio-vascular systems than those who ate least.

In the past the benefits of chocolate have always been attributed to high levels of antioxidant flavenoids found in cocoa-rich bars (those with more than 70% cocoa solids in them), which tend to be the bitter-tasting types.

This survey though found that even our much derided milk chocolate gave similar benefits; in fact the scientists concluded that there was no appreciable difference between plain, milk or white chocolate in the results seen.

How would you report such good news?

Just imagine how the research team must have agonised about making this public.

Here is a set of unequivocal data which points out that calorie-rich, high-fat sweets are good for the heart...crumbs! That's not a health message that ANY government wants to put out there is it?

The report does actually tame the headlines by saying that the mechanism of protection is not certain and therefore further studies are needed, but we know what the truth is - and I for one am cheered by the prospect of guilt-free chocolate heaven!

The UK health experts were quick to swing in with cautious tones about the results, with Catherine Collins, a dietician from St Georges Healthcare Trust, being quoted as saying "This paper doesn't really say eat chocolate to improve heart health - nor do the authors conclude this either. What they seem to say is, those who don't deny themselves a sweet treat of chocolate - white or brown - have better cardiovascular outcomes."

Which actually can be paraphrased to one of my most favourite sayings - a little bit of what you fancy always does you good!

There is one area of the study which I do think needs a bit more work doing on it.

This relates to the feel-good factor of eating chocolate, which has such a massive impact on our health.

Chocolate has a luxurious and smooth quality on the palate which no other foodstuff can get close to, and the research team noted that levels of relaxation arrive from eating it well before it gets to the intestine; which means the simple pleasure derived from a bit of Cadbury's finest may outweigh the calorie load that hits the body afterwards.

Dr Collins indicates that she is firmly of the view that this is the real health benefit and said "I do feel that the perceived relaxing effect of  is a contributor - perhaps akin to modest alcohol consumption - a relaxing treat, perceived as a 'de-stressor' and a food whose cost base is so low it's affordable by virtually all."

Yee and indeed ha! In that one sentence it looks like I can have a small glass of wine and a bit of chocolate and benefit from a de-stressing...oh joy and bliss!

Caution needed before rushing to the sweet shop!

Of course, what all of these good people are saying is clear - if you want to keep your heart healthy then your local corner shops' sweet counter is not the place to start.

Overindulgence in sweetened chocolate is a primary cause of our rapidly expanding waistlines, and clinical levels of obesity - which contribute to the high levels of heart disease in the country.

The problem is that chocolate is so affordable, yet has the tag of being a luxury item.

I fully understand why the scientists behind this trial have couched their findings with caveats about moderation and appropriate inclusion into a proper diet; the risk being that people begin to see huge, cheap slabs of chocolate as their salvation.

In pulling this letter together I have used the source material from the BMJ and original meeting presentation, however, I have seen how the information has been translated into red-top news articles - and it isn't a pretty sight.

Back in October 2010 I gave you my honest opinion of how you should use chocolate as part of your diet, and this latest research doesn't change that;

'...the real health benefit... it just makes you feel so GOOD.

Make sure you buy high-quality dark chocolate with over 70% cocoa solids. Anything under 70% cocoa solids is still tasty, but should be considered more as confectionary than real chocolate.

Choose wisely.'

And, nothing has changed since then. I just hope the popular press learn to report these stories wisely rather than to sensationalise this type of research, and mislead the general public in the process.

Yours as always,


 

 

 

 

 

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