Don't fall for the Candyman's cure for heart disease
We've been seeing a lot of headlines about the health benefits of chocolate, which is being touted as a magical food that can do everything from lower your blood pressure and you're your appetite to protect your heart and sharpen your mind.
But remember: Don't believe everything you read. Because if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
The truth is, there really is a ton of research that supports the claim that natural, antioxidant compounds called cocoa flavanols can make you healthier.
For example, a new review of data from 19 clinical trials found solid evidence that chocolate can benefit cardiovascular and metabolic health.
Doctors from Brown University analyzed data from more than 1,100 participants and found that consuming cocoa products was linked to:
- Lowered insulin resistance. Insulin is the hormone that regulates your blood sugar, and if you are insulin resistant, glucose can build up in your blood, leading to diabetes.
- A drop in triglycerides. Triglycerides make your body store fat, so a high level of triglycerides is associated with weight gain.
- Reduction of chronic inflammation. Systemic (chronic) inflammation can undermine your health in a variety of ways, including contributing to heart disease.
The most benefit was seen for participants who consumed 200 to 600 milligrams of flavanols a day. In fact, unlike both lower AND higher doses, this sweet spot was also associated with an increase in HDL ("good") cholesterol.
Now, I'd like to point out that this study was funded by Mars Symbioscience, the division of the Big Sugar company (whose brands include M&Ms) devoted to researching the health benefits of cocoa flavanols. And while I think it's a good thing for big corporations to allocate funds to conduct (sometimes costly) scientific research, the association still makes me take the results -- and the headlines -- with a grain of salt (or refined sugar, as it were).
So while there's a nugget of truth to many of these claims, unfortunately gorging yourself on Halloween candy will NOT make you healthier.
The good news is: You can get these health benefits without eating several hundred calories' worth of chocolate. (Even if it's good dark chocolate -- a delicious choice if you're looking for an occasional treat -- that's a lot of calories and sugar.)
Because you can also find those flavanols in 20 to 60 calories' worth of unsweetened cocoa powder.
Natural cocoa powder is inexpensive, and you can find it on the shelf at any grocery store. Avoid the "Dutch process" stuff -- it's had most of the flavanols stripped out of it during processing.
Try mixing 2 to 3 tablespoons of natural cocoa powder into your coffee or morning smoothie. You can even find surprising ways to cook with cocoa -- like cocoa black bean soup, mocha-rubbed beef pot roast, or chicken with a Mexican mole ("mo-lay") sauce.