Chocolate: the ultimate indulgence. Associated with romance, with feasting, with treats, chocolate has a reputation for its decadence. Many people see their chocolate consumption as somewhat of a guilty pleasure-think of all of the times on TV you’ve seen women on the couch in their pajamas, watching cheesy movies and digging into a giant tub of chocolate ice cream. It’s possible to go overboard with the chocolate consumption-no doubt. The Healthplus diet is low fat and low sugar, so certainly large quantities of chocolate desserts are not recommended. However, according to several studies cited by Dr. Dean Ornish, small amounts of dark chocolate can be very beneficial to the heart and the mood.
Dark chocolate contain health-promoting polyphenols, also found in walnuts, tea, grapes, and olive oil. Polyphenols help to improve cardiovascular functioning, allowing blood to flow more easily to the heart, according to a study conducted by Dr. Yumi Shina at Chiba University in Japan. A second study, reported on in the Journal of American Medical Association in 2003, found that the consumption of dark chocolate helped to lower blood pressure as well.
Let’s consider these two findings for a moment. Overweight people tend to struggle with high blood pressure; because their arteries can become clogged with fat, this causes the heart to have to work overtime to get adequate blood flow to the body. This can lead to very poor cardiovascular health. However, if blood is getting pumped out with greater ease, as well as being returned to the heart with greater ease, this relieves considerable stress on the heart itself. Ornish explains that this process is caused by the nitric oxide found in dark chocolate, which allows blood vessels to relax and dilate. This lessens blood pressure while at the same time contributing to blood flow.
Remember though, milk chocolate does not have these same positive effects as dark chocolate, and is higher is fat. This includes desserts like ice cream, cookies, cakes and pastries that may contain chocolate but are not exclusively made out of it. This is not an excuse for just any indulgence, but should hopefully provide insight into a more mindful way to indulge. So pick up a chocolate bar, the darker the better, and after dinner break off a single square. Suck on it slowly, turn it over with your tongue. Explore the intricacies of flavor. This kind of chocolate experience is delicious, and nothing to feel guilty about.
For Dr. Dean Ornish’s original article see also