Research continues to champion dark chocolate for its health benefits. Since chocolate is a vending product mainstay, that translates into an opportunity for vendors to draw attention and demystify the reports surrounding the health benefits of chocolate. This article contains a sampling of the research as well as a 1-page take away for operators to place in break rooms for their customers.
Heart And Blood Benefits
Studies continue to link chocolate, or more specifically the ground up cacao bean (or cocoa bean) in chocolate, with decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, improved blood flow and increased insulin sensitivity (reducing the risk of diabetes).
Research points to flavonoids — a compound commonly found in foods of vegetable origin such as tea and red wine, for chocolate’s health benefits. They are an antioxidant, a substance that can prevent or slow damage by free radicals. Studies have found they are also doing much more.
Flavanols are a subclass of flavonoids and are highly concentrated in the cacao bean. The two terms, flavanols and flavonoids, are often interchanged in studies and articles about chocolate.
The flavonoids in cacao reduce the clumping of platelets (cell fragments that form clots) within veins, much like aspirin does, but to a lesser degree. Back in 2006, a researcher at John Hopkins University School of Medicine found a few squares of dark chocolate a day (dark chocolate has more cacao than other varieties) reduces the risk of death by heart attack by close to 50 percent in certain cases.
“The chemical in cocoa beans has a biochemical effect similar to aspirin in reducing platelet clumping, which can be fatal if a clot forms and blocks a blood vessel, causing a heart attack,” said Diane Becker, M.P.H., Sc.D., a professor at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Bloomberg School of Public Health in a prepared statement.
More recently, researchers at Johns Hopkins have concluded epicatechin, a specific type of flavonoids in cacao, may protect the brain after a stroke.
Sylvain Doré, Ph.D., associate professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine and pharmacology and molecular sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said in a prepared statement that epicatechin stimulates two previously well-established pathways known to shield nerve cells in the brain from damage.
Harvard Health Publications reported the flavonoids in dark chocolate are a benefit to many areas of cardiovascular health. They protect against LDL cholesterol oxidation (bad cholesterol), while increasing HDL (good) cholesterol levels.
Flavonoids also reportedly lower blood pressure, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attack, research has found. There’s also evidence from Europe that flavonoids can aid in the body’s system of widening blood vessels and keeping their linings smooth.
Dark Chocolate Reduces Diabetes Risk
Besides increasing the health of the cardiovascular system and protecting against stroke, there’s evidence flavonoids can reduce the risk of developing diabetes.
A researcher from the Dipartimento Internal Medicine and Public Health, University of L’Aquila in Italy compared white chocolate and flavanol-rich dark chocolate. After the subjects received their chocolate, they were given blood pressure and insulin sensitivity tests.
While the researcher found similar cardiovascular benefits as previous studies, he also noticed that those who ingested the dark chocolate (as opposed to the white chocolate) had lower insulin resistance (a key factor in developing diabetes).
All researchers warned that balancing the calorie intake with the health benefits of chocolate is important. Different types of chocolate not only vary in the amount of cacao, but also calories and fat, so anyone eating it regularly should balance their intake with additional exercise or removal of the equivalent calories. Added weight negates many of the health benefits.