The Chocolate Heart

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February 16, 2012 by David Gillaspie

More Than Candy

(written for Dr. Elaine Bayes Gillaspie)

Remember to brush your teeth

America’s Heart Month came just in time. Instead of feeling guilty about a box of chocolate on Valentine’s Day, celebrate instead.

Just make sure it’s dark chocolate.

A regular dose of dark chocolate does what no other chocolate does as well. The difference is the polyphenols. Your taste buds may not tell the difference, but tests on human liver and intestinal cell cultures show chocolate lowers LDL, the low-density lipoprotein known as ‘bad’ cholesterol, and lifts the levels of HDL, the ‘good’ cholesterol.

Reports in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry describe how chocolate acts on certain proteins in our digestive system. Apolipoprotein A1 levels increase in good cholesterol, while apolipoprotein B levels drop in bad cholesterol with dark chocolate polyphenols.

Closer study shows how chocolate works on a genetic level.

Polyphenols seem to promote more activity in sterol regulatory element binding proteins, or SREBPs. The more active SREBPs promote higher ‘good’ cholesterol and less ‘bad’ cholesterol by triggering genes in DNA material to regulate the levels.

Research by the director of science for Mars, Inc., the makers of Dove Dark, suggests their chocolate is higher in flavanols, or antioxidant flavanoids. The flavanols in Dove Dark include catechins, epicatechins, and procyanidins. Through studies on people with high blood levels of flavonoids, results show a lower risk of heart disease, lung cancer, prostate cancer, asthma, and type 2 diabetes.

If that’s not enough work for one dose of dark chocolate, it also works to prevent heart attacks and strokes by stabilizing arterial plaque. While further research may uncover more health benefits, adding as much as an ounce of dark chocolate to a diet already rich in antioxidants makes the biggest difference.

To be sure of the best results, scientists suggest pure cocoa powder contains the most antioxidants. Dark chocolate and milk chocolate follow in order of the effective antioxidants they contain.

Think of chocolate as an important addition of a healthy diet.

In small portions, it’s just what the doctor ordered.

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