Dark chocolate for heart health - Hershey's Cocoa 100% cocoa a good fit?
February 17, 2015 5:32 PM   Subscribe

Heart attacks in my past, take my half aspirin every day, eat good-guy fats, no junk food, blah blah blah, etc and etc. I know that dark chocolate is supposed to be good also but I absolutely can *not* have sweetened dark chocolate in my home even overnight -- no willpower in the face of sweetened dark chocolate, like none. Zero. Zip. Zed.

I buy dark chocolate with totally good intent -- Yeah! I'm gonna take one square a night! Oh boy, I'm gonna be so healthy and stuff! -- and it's gone by the morning. So I bought this Hershey's Cocoa 100% cocoa and I'm wondering if this has the good-guy qualities my heart wants. I mix it in with coffee and drink it, I'm like at a heaping teaspoon, one per day. Tastes like garbage but who cares, tasting like garbage is kindof the point here, so I don't eat it all in one sitting.

So. Do you know if this stuff has the good-guy stuff my heart is wanting? And how much per day should I put into my mouth?

Thanx in advance!
posted by dancestoblue to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
There are very few things that are going to make or break your overall health. It's highly unlikely that dark chocolate is one of them. Certainly if you are able to buy just a square or two and you want to have a treat, do it. But don't torture yourself.
posted by radioamy at 5:42 PM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Chocolate hasn't been shown to have any long-term health benefits. Eat chocolate if you want, but we don't have the evidence of any sort of long-term benefits you are trying to achieve. Maybe this will help you keep all chocolate out of the house?

Food is not medicine, so it is better not to treat it that way. You should consult with your physician about what sort of diet you should follow.
posted by Tanizaki at 5:44 PM on February 17, 2015

If you aren't adding any sugar to it, the cocoa should have a negligible effect on your overall diet in terms of nutrition, according to the Nutrition Facts label I see on Amazon, since it's only got 10 calories (5 from fat) per tablespoon. This is only true if you are using the cocoa powder, not if you're using, say, a Special Dark bar of Hershey's chocolate, which has added sugar and more fat.

I can't speak to any other health benefits (like heart health), though. Depends on which study you believe, I guess.
posted by Aleyn at 5:47 PM on February 17, 2015

Best answer: It is difficult to get the information about Hershey's Dark on-line, but if it says “processed with alkali” on the nutrition label, then it’s going to have a whole lot less flavanols; this process is called “dutching," which might also be on the label.

Whatever nutritional benefits you might get from dark chocolate are going to be minimized with a Hershey's type product. I suggest just buying a smaller amount of a quality (expensive) dark chocolate at a time with a cacao content of around 60 to 70%.
posted by dawg-proud at 5:48 PM on February 17, 2015 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Oh, I should add, that yes, there is serious doubt that there is much health benefit from consuming cacao, especially at the levels you would be consuming from dark chocolate. I eat a local company's stone-ground dark chocolate in moderation because I enjoy it. I am sort of horrified and saddened at the idea of forcing down a drink you dislike.
posted by dawg-proud at 5:55 PM on February 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

After reading and article about cocoa flavonoids having a measurable benefit to memory (and of course I cannot remember where I saw it) I started to have one of these packets of unsweetened cocoa every morning in my coffee. When I went to buy a second box it had gone from 30 to 50 dollars and I gave up.
posted by InkaLomax at 6:03 PM on February 17, 2015

You may be interested in purchasing roasted and ground cacao beans that you can brew like coffee. 100% cocoa goodness, zero added sweetness. (And really yummy, too!)
posted by gnutron at 6:13 PM on February 17, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I don't understand why you wouldn't just eat your seven squares per week in one go on one day a week. It's not medicinal; you don't have to maintain a regular dosage of chocolate. Eat a bar a week and enjoy it -- that will at least guarantee a benefit.
posted by kmennie at 6:25 PM on February 17, 2015 [12 favorites]

Here is some raw, organic cacao powder. I put a teaspoonful in my morning protein shake.
posted by H21 at 6:26 PM on February 17, 2015

Best answer: Yes, the higher the cocoa content, the less room for fat and sugar...because percentages. If there's a trader joes near you (or you can find a way to order from them), try their "chocolate lover's chocolate bar 85% cocoa" it's insanely good, only like $2 for a 2-bar pack, and though it's delicious, it's way too intense to plow through in one sitting. (I like pairing it with their triple ginger ginger snaps...it's like the scotch and cigars of treats)
posted by sexyrobot at 6:27 PM on February 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

You should be able to get unsweetened chocolate in the baking section of the grocery store. This is a good one - I think it even tasted a bit fruity. Depending on the temperature of your morning beverage, you may be able to just break off a square and drop it in. However, I think it may be possible to develop a taste for eating it straight cut into small pieces, or even in small pieces sprinkled on banana or another fruit, or in cereal.

Alternatively, you could try cocao nibs.

I'm not sure of the benefits of eating cocoa powder, but I know it's not the same as chocolate.
posted by amtho at 6:37 PM on February 17, 2015

The whole hoopla surrounding dark chocolate is mostly for the benefit of people who want to eat something sugary and fatty and delicious but also want to feel like they're choosing something comparatively healthy. If chocolate tasted like dirt, no one would recommend that you eat it for its heart-healthy properties.
posted by Metroid Baby at 6:41 PM on February 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I don't think you need to force down dark chocolate that you don't enjoy for the sake of your health. There are many other foods and lifestyle habits (exercise, sleep, lowering stress) that are known to have great benefits to the heart- it's not like dark chocolate is a medicine that doctors prescribe, or even a suggestion. It's moreso that if you enjoy dark chocolate, you can feel ok eating some because it may have some benefits. But lots of food has those benefits. Hershey's is not really known to be high quality stuff and may not give much benefit at all.

Why not, like others said above, just buy bar a week and eat it, or buy small pieces of high quality dark chocolate every once in awhile?
posted by bearette at 7:20 PM on February 17, 2015

While I'm sure the health benefits apart from avoiding the sugar are minimal, I've found good quality dark cocoa mixed with whole milk and a bit of sweetener to be a great way of satisying my chocolate needs if having a whole bar in the house is just going to tempt me. Stevia's not bad, the best I've found for my tastebuds is Canadian Sugar Twin, which is sadly banned in the US. It's not great in lots of stuff but seems like a really good match for cocoa, and doesn't have the weird sweetener-y aftertaste.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 8:16 PM on February 17, 2015

Response by poster: Good information, as always -- thanx to all who answered.

I do in fact have a Trader Joe's close-by and I go in at least once a week because hey, Trader Joe's. The foods there are so good, the prices so reasonable. I see their "chocolate lover's chocolate bar 85% cocoa" in my very near future, and since it's in a two-pack I'll give one of my neighbors the second one to keep it out of my grubby hands.

The box of Hershey's is in the trash.

Thanx all!
posted by dancestoblue at 8:17 PM on February 17, 2015

Also not sure how it compares to the Trader Joe's bar, but I've tried Ghirardelli Midnight Reverie (86% cacao) and I can't imagine that bar inspiring an unstoppable desire to polish it off. It's "sweetened" I suppose, but it really doesn't taste that sweet at all. The cocoa nibs at Trader Joe's on the other hand, I have tried and I do think it's easy to eat too many of them at once.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:50 PM on February 17, 2015

My top tip for chocolate is to break it into portions then freeze it - helps with the instant gratification bit (and I think it tastes better very cold anyway).
posted by kadia_a at 11:17 PM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I am not a doctor and I agree that, if you are doing everything else right, it seems unnecessary to force yourself to swallow something unpleasant if a doctor hasn't prescribed it to you.

However, I wanted to respond to the article that Tanizaki linked to. It claims that there haven't been randomized studies with control groups that have shown health benefits to chocolate. Perhaps this was true in 2012 when the article was published, but there have absolutely been randomized and controlled peer-reviewed studies since then. See, for example, this study from 2014, which concluded "The daily ingestion of 10 g dark chocolate (>75% cocoa) during a month significantly improves vascular function in young and healthy individuals." (Note that this study applied only to "young and healthy individuals" and there was no follow up to see if there was a long-term benefit after the month was over. Still, it does seem to suggest that chocolate's heart healthiness is not just a myth.)

Similarly, this meta-analysis of randomized chocolate studies concluded that there are "consistent acute and chronic benefits of chocolate or cocoa" on heart health.

You asked if the 100% chocolate would have the "good-guy stuff" your heart needs. Unfortunately, nobody seems to know what part of chocolate provides the health benefits. As the first study notes, "Cocoa-rich chocolate contains several substances in addition to flavanols [5], which theoretically could have influenced the results. Thus, the observed changes may be the result of the beneficial effects of flavonoids, although we cannot exclude the participation of other substances."

A lot of previous attention has been given to resveratrol, which is found in both chocolate and red wine, but another 2014 study seems to suggest that "the benefits, if they are there, must come from other polyphenols or substances found in those foodstuffs," rather than resveratrol.

Since nobody knows what the good stuff is, nobody can tell you if a given chocolate bar has it. However, my own non-expert, totally unscientific guess is that if 75% dark chocolate is good for you, and 100% dark chocolate is the same thing with less sugar, than surely 100% dark chocolate must be good for you, too. Otherwise, the health benefits would be coming from the sugar, which seems unlikely to me. (This is a moot point if you figure out how to consume 75% or 85% chocolate in moderation, of course.)

And to answer your other question, about how much you should take -- the 2014 study found benefits from a mere 10 grams of dark chocolate a day. That's bad news if (like me) you wish you could eat a 100 gram chocolate bar every day for strictly medicinal purposes. But I guess it's good news if you're forcing yourself to eat 100% chocolate and you don't want to have to eat too much of it!

Again, I'm not a doctor, and I can't begin to analyze the merits of any particular study. I'm just a guy who likes chocolate and has done a little googling. But if eating dark chocolate in moderation brings you pleasure... or if making yourself eat a little 10 gram square of unsweetened 100% chocolate helps you feel like you're taking extra good care of your heart... I don't think you're being unreasonable.
posted by yankeefog at 4:16 AM on February 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

My favorite dessert lately is sliced fresh pineapple and strawberries with (unsweetened, un-dutched) cocoa powder sprinkled on, topped with a tiny crank of salt. The salt and juicy sweetness of the fruit brings out the chocolatey flavor, and it is freaking delicious. And for me, this is a diet-friendly dessert.

Like others, I can't say whether this is something to add to your cardiovascular health arsenal, but I tend to agree that whatever health benefits chocolate has, they must exist more potently in cocoa powder form, unless the fat and sugar content of chocolate is what makes it healthy. Cocoa powder is known to contain fiber, iron, flavanoids, and polyphenols, and probably other beneficial nutrients.
posted by kapers at 11:50 AM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I went through a cocoa nibs phase, where I ate them like mixed nuts. I'd pour them into a teacup and nibble mouthfuls of them between sips of cabernet while watching House re-runs. It was an exercise in snacking austerity. I don't like them raw, only roasted--they're more chocolatey in taste and texture. The cocoa nibs phase ended inexplicably, and then a couple of years later I went through a sardines phase. I have nothing to say about the acute benefits of either of these dietary peculiarities, but of the chronic effects I can report that now my cupboards are full of untouched boxes of roasted cocoa nibs and cans of sprats (because my friend witnessed my sardine-eating and now brings a couple of cans of sprats every time he comes to visit). Maybe I'll make a big casserole. Nibs 'n' sprats.
posted by Don Pepino at 1:01 PM on February 18, 2015

Best answer: “Dark chocolate is a great source of antioxidants and minerals. A 100-gram bar of dark chocolate can provide almost your entire daily dose of manganese as well as almost 70% of the iron you need in a day

“There are also clinical trials showing correlations between cocoa and lower blood pressure as well as lowering the risk for heart disease.

“Some studies have also shown cocoa powder to lower the amount of “bad” LDL cholesterol while increasing levels of “good” HDL.

“Other theories suggest that chocolate releases feel-good hormones like dopamine and serotonin in your brain. It can satisfy your sweet tooth and add a delicious bit of diversification to your diet.
posted by H21 at 10:39 AM on March 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

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