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It was all over the news last week - 6 grams of dark chocolate each day prevents heart attack and stroke. Being in the chocolate business I could have just left it at that and waited for my phone to ring with orders. But I knew there had to be more to the story.

The actual study was lead by Dr Brian Buijsse, from the German Institute of Human Nutrition and reported in the European Heart Journal. There were more than 19,000 participants. It was determined that the flavanols in cocoa seem to decrease blood pressure. Flavanols are phytochemicals - chemicals found in plants. They are antioxidants and have an anti-inflamatory effect. These flavanols are also found in fruits and vegetables such as grapes; the basis for similar studies which cited the benefits of drinking red wine. Flavanols are linked to decreased blood pressure. A decrease in blood pressure may lead to a decrease in heart attack and stroke. In this particular study it was determined that 6 grams a day of dark chocolate would be the beneficial quantity. So, let’s look at 6 grams of dark chocolate.

The plate on the right has 6 grams of dark chocolate, just about 1/4 of an ounce. That isn’t much for most of us who like to snack on chocolate. But the plate on the left has 6 grams of unsweetened cocoa powder, roughly 2 teaspoons.

Since most of us would consume more than 6 grams of chocolate in one sitting and since chocolate has a good dose of sugar and saturated fat, eating chocolate every day would likely increase both our weight and our cholesterol and that raises our risk for heart disease.

But, the cocoa powder is another story. Cocoa powder gives you more bang for your buck. The flavor is rich, a little goes a long way and you can sweeten it with something healthier than table sugar. If the flavanols are what you‘re after, cocoa powder can provide health benefits and satisfy your chocolate craving at the same time. Here’s a recipe I posted on my chocolate blog today:

1 cup skim milk
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
sweetener of your choice - I used 1 tsp of agave nectar but I’ve also used honey, splenda and even good old sugar in moderation. The beauty of using unsweetened cocoa powder is you control the amount of sweetener yourself. Many of us can get by with far less sugar than what you’d find in commercially produced cocoa mix.

I put everything in a small saucepan, warmed it to scalding, whisked to blend all the ingredients and sipped a delicious cup of hot cocoa this afternoon. This is also a good base for a cool summer snack. Just put it in the fridge and chill it down or blend it with ice and a banana and turn it into a smoothie. And, since cocoa powder is a very low fat food you can even use a little more of it to intensify the chocolate taste without doing yourself any harm. Just know that more cocoa powder requires more sweetener.

This all probably sounds very strange coming from someone in the chocolate business. I love chocolate but I also recognize it for what it is; a treat, an indulgence, something special to give as a gift to ourselves or to someone we care about. When I saw this report hitting the air waves I could see the potential for a marriage between misinformation and clever marketing. Just thought I’d share.

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Member Comments

    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Cynthia Schmidt wrote Apr 7, 2010
    • It’s a strange balancing act for me. I’ve been a “foodie” all my life. I love food. I love cooking it and eating it. But I’ve studied nutrition all of my adult life as well, even contemplated taking the education all the way to becoming a registered dietitian. So, even though I work with a very indulgent food in my daily life, I feel a responsibility to be honest about the good and the bad in it.



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Trudy S wrote Apr 7, 2010
    • YES!  It is wonderful that you have a passion for something that is so good for you...for all of us!  heart



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Laurie Zieber wrote Apr 7, 2010
    • Sometimes reality is quite disappointing.  I felt the same way when I learned that a glass of red wine is good for you. Sadly, drinking a bottle of red wine is just not.  

      But I really appreciate this information, Cynthia!   It’s so like you to share the whole story instead of capitalizing on a misconception by the public for your own benefit.  

      xxoo,
      L.



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Mztracy wrote Apr 7, 2010
    • estaticestatic
      TY Cynthia!! heart



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Hbrose wrote Apr 8, 2010
    • You‘re so wonderfully honest happy  If I saw headlines saying chocolate was good for you and reduces heart disease or high blood pressure, I would have indulged for sure probably without reading all the details or researching the facts as you have laid them out for us.  So thanks for sharing and being so honest and for sharing a delicious way to enjoy cocoa without being over indulgent.  Though from time to time I must indulge in the yummy chocolate, especially yours!  happy



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Marya1961 wrote Apr 8, 2010
    • heartheart..thanks Cynthia for info on the powder and making a smoothie with banana..don’t those “experts” know that it is virtually impossible for a menopausal woman to just stop at a few bites of decadent chocolate..lol..estaticestatic



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Vikki Hall wrote Apr 8, 2010
    • Thx for sharing!



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Lazylola wrote Apr 8, 2010
    • I heart chocolate. Thanks for the info.



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Trudy S wrote Apr 8, 2010
    • I always suggest looking for chocolate containing natural-processed cocoa instead of alkali-processed (also termed Dutch-processed) cocoa. Hershey and Guittard make both kinds. Ordinary Hershey’s cocoa is an economical choice for making beverages and baked goods at home. Other makers of high-quality chocolates include Scharffen Berger, El Rey and Valrhona.

      #1. Dutching makes cocoa milder. I prefer the acidity of natural.  

      #2. Any recipe that uses chemical leavening and calls for natural cocoa, should not use dutched unless you adjust the leavening. Otherwise the akalinity of the cocoa will throw off the recipe.

      It is not superior. Of course, Valrhona cocoa is much better than Hershey’s natural. That’s just the quality of the cocoa, not because of the dutching. Both have their uses in my kitchen.



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