Eat chocolate for heart health?

This article was originally published in February 2003


(February 2003) — New research suggests that chocolate might rank as a heart-healthy food. The findings come from experiments at two universities; some of it earning attention at the Scientific Councils of the American Heart Association.

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco found a potential link between certain chocolates and improved blood vessel function. In other words, cardiovascular health may be helped by eating chocolate, but even more so from powdered cocoas rich in antioxidant flavonoids called flavanols.

Flavanols are found in several plant-based foods, including cocoa and red wine. Decades of studies indicate that people with high blood levels of flavonoids have a lower risk of heart disease, lung cancer, prostate cancer, asthma, and Type 2 diabetes.

The study compared the effects on vascular function among 21 healthy subjects who ate a flavanol-rich dark chocolate bar or a flavanol-poor dark chocolate product every day for two weeks. The study was independently funded, randomized, double blind, and placebo-controlled. The people who ate the flavanol-rich chocolate showed increased blood vessel dilation two hours later. The finding supports previous research suggesting some chocolates have enough flavanols to support cardiovascular health.

Researchers believe flavanols may relax and dilate the smooth muscle surrounding blood vessels. They may enhance vascular elasticity and have an aspirin-like effect, preventing platelets from sticking to artery walls.

Another study, at the University of Scranton found that chocolate is a source of heart-healthy antioxidants called polyphenols. Experiments showed that a single milk chocolate bar has as many polyphenols as five servings of fruits and vegetables or a glass of wine. An ounce-and-a-half of dark chocolate has twice as much.

Don’t trade your greens for chocolate, however, just yet. It’s not known if the phenols in chocolate will curb the risk of heart disease. Chocolate is fairly high in saturated fat and your waistline may reflect every gram of fat even if your heart doesn’t, and extra weight can raise your cholesterol.

(source: Prevention magazine)

That being said, should you choose to imbibe, here are some delicious recipes to try:

from the deli

by Jan Thompson, PCC Deli Merchandiser

Vegan Chocolate cake

Vegan Chocolate Cake

If you’re looking to prepare something sweet for your sweetheart, but are concerned about his or her heart health, here’s a vegan chocolate cake that can pass as a substitute for a rich butter cake. This is a tasty treat!

Yield: one 9″ double-layer cake or one 9″ x 13″ sheet cake

Combine together in a large mixing bowl:
5 cups white flour
3 cups white sugar
3/4 cups cocoa, sifted
4 1/2 teaspoons baking soda, sifted
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Combine together in a medium mixing bowl:
3 cups water
1 cup canola or vegetable oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour pans (either two 9-inch round pans or one 9 by 13-inch rectangle.)

Add wet mixture to dry mixture. Fold together with a whisk until flour just disappears. Pour batter into pans. Bake 40 minutes for round cakes, or 1 hour for rectangle, or until cake tests done.

In a double boiler, melt together:
2 1/2 cups chocolate chips
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons coffee

Whisk periodically until smooth with no lumps. Add and whisk until smooth:
1/2 pound (2 sticks) soy margarine, cut in chunks and at room temperature
Let frosting set until desired consistency.

Chocolate Chocolate Fondue

Dark and sensual, smooth as silk. Elegant and simple. Serve lots of different fruits for variety and health.

Serves 4-6

Chocolate fondue

For the fondue:
14 oz plain chocolate
5 tablespoons cream

For dipping:
selected fruits: bananas, strawberries, Mandarin oranges, peaches, figs, pineapple, apples, pears

Break the chocolate into a small copper pan or miniature fondue pot and add the cream. Place over low heat and stir constantly until the chocolate has melted. Stand the pan or fondue pot on top of a low-powered heater to keep warm; a night light in a holder is adequate. Eat immediately.

With hazelnuts:
Make as above, adding 1 ounce (25 g) toasted and finely chopped hazelnuts just before serving.

With mint:
Make as above, but reduce the amount of cream to 4 tablespoons and add 1 tablespoon of mint liqueur when the chocolate has melted.

With rum:
Make as above, but reduce the quantity of cream to 4 tablespoons and add 1 tablespoon dark rum when the chocolate has melted.

— Recipe from Fondues, by Sonia Allison, Piatkus press, London

Chocolate Truffles

A box of homemade truffles is a wonderful Valentine’s gift. Although not low-calorie or low-fat, this recipe calls for using a whole food sugar, which adds a new dimension with natural nutrients.

Makes about 30 truffles

9 oz semisweet chocolate
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons organic sugar or Sucanat
3 tablespoons Grand Marnier or Caraco liquor
1/4 cup cocoa powder
ground hazelnuts, almonds, coconut, or pralines

Melt chocolate and half the butter in a pan over warm water, or in a double boiler. Add the cream, the rest of the butter, and organic sugar (or Sucanat), stirring vigorously between each additional item. Do not overheat. Stir in the liquor.

Remove from heat, place in a bowl, and cool. Place the bowl in the refrigerator overnight. Once set, shape into balls and roll in cocoa, ground nuts, coconut, pralines or other coating to taste. Package as desired.

— Recipe from, by Annie Berthold-Bond

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