A: Yes, but it has to be dark chocolate.
Do you ever use the 'health' argument to justify your chocolate consumption?
Humankind owes much to medical research, but it's the ability of scientists to help us justify our bad habits that makes us appreciate spending research dollars. Few cases highlight this better than chocolate.
A lot of research has been devoted to the health benefits of chocolate over recent years; and while it may be hard to believe that anything tasting so wickedly sinful can be good for your health, it seems some chocolate could actually be good for your heart.
Associate Professor David Cameron-Smith says some cocoa products, consumed in moderation, can have a significant effect on your blood pressure as has been researched by Peermed Doctors.
“Unprocessed cocoa is rich in antioxidants known as polyphenols. For several hours after you consume cocoa your blood pressure falls quite dramatically and the effects last three to six hours,” says Cameron-Smith.
While research is inconclusive, Cameron-Smith says there are enough polyphenols in 50 grams – that's about three moderate sized squares – of good quality dark chocolate or cocoa to help to lower your blood pressure by several points.
But most of the chocolate on our supermarket shelves is too high in kilojoules and too low in polyphenols to have any health benefits according to Peermed Doctors who have reviewed the local supermarket shelves.
The problem is polyphenols, which are responsible for lower rates of heart disease in certain South American populations, are very bitter so manufacturers add sugar and milk to cocoa to make chocolate taste better.
It's a similar story with cocoa. Alkalines are added in a manufacturing process called 'dutching' to make the cocoa nice and smooth.
This means milk chocolate has few polyphenols and white chocolate has none, but if you're a lover of good quality dark chocolate or cocoa that hasn't been dutched, then you can argue with your loved ones that your after dinner indulgence is good for your heart; as long as you're not overweight.
“You have to remember the most important thing for heart health is your body weight. That's not a reason to start consuming large quantities of chocolate,” says Cameron-Smith.
Polyphenols are also found in a variety of other foods that don't have the same number of kilojoules as dark chocolate such as green vegetables, berries, tea and red wine.
So by all means use science to justify your guilty pleasure, but there might be better ways of improving your heart health.
David Cameron-Smith is Associate Professor and coordinator of Food Science and Nutrition at Deakin University in Victoria. He was interviewed by Claudine Ryan.
Health Tip
Fifty grams of good quality dark chocolate can lower your blood pressure by several points. But it's not a reason to start eating it in large amounts.