Research published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology suggests that enjoying just two chocolate bars per week can meaningfully reduce your risk of stroke.
Cocoa content varies widely in chocolate bars. Milk chocolate tends to have the lowest cocoa content, often less than 25%. Dark chocolate may contain 50% or more cocoa solids – this is the best chocolate from a health standpoint.
Among the Kuna Indians of Panama, high blood pressure (which afflicts about one in three American adults) is virtually non-existent, even in old-age. They are known to drink cocoa daily, and scientists have recently established that there is more than an anecdotal link between cocoa and heart health. One study found cocoa can be just as effective as aspirin (and without the side effects) in helping to prevent blood clotting.
Cocoa contains chemicals called flavanols that improve blood circulation. Because cocoa also helps improve circulation to the brain, it can reduce the chances of a stroke and may even help prevent memory loss. A higher percentage of cacao (cocoa) means a higher amount of flavanols.
“A component of chocolate has been found to reverse age-related memory loss in healthy adults aged 50-69. The rejuvenating effect can be traced to increased blood flow in a specific region of the brain,” reports The Guardian, a U.K. newspaper (October 27, 2014).
The method used to process the raw cacao bean can affect the amount of flavanols in the end product.
If your chocolate says “processed with alkali” on the nutrition label, then it’s going to have a whole lot less flavanols. Processing with alkali is called “dutching“.
The FDA is not very specific on labeling. The terms “chocolate flavored” or “natural chocolate flavored” must be used on the labeling of any nonstandardized food in which the consumer could “reasonably expect a chocolate ingredient but which contains cocoa as the sole source of chocolate flavoring.”
On your grocery store’s candy aisle, look for Lindt’s 70%, 85%, and 90% Cacao bars. They also make a 99% cacao (this is hard to find). Check the labels carefully. Check because in the past, the 90% has been processed with alkali, but the 85% was not. Godiva’s 72% is not manufactured with alkali. If you’re in a health food store, there’s always a good range on small batch, Fair Trade options.
If the taste of high-cocoa chocolate is too bitter for you, try melting down chunks of the chocolate and dipping bananas, apple slices, strawberries, or other fruit in the dark goodness for a more palatable, super-healthy treat