Dr Paul Clayton 2004
The root of much heart and vascular disease is now widely reckoned to be endothelial dysfunction (ED), a chronic inflammatory condition that afflicts the blood vessels and is caused by such factors as smoking and a poor diet. ED is known to respond particularly well to flavonoids, the health-promoting compounds found in such foods as fruits, berries, tea – and chocolate. In fact, given the way we eat, it is likely that for many of us tea and chocolate are the main sources of these vital phytonutrients.
At the University of Athens, Dr Charalambos Vlachopoulos of the Hippokratian Hospital
reported that chocolate really works. He gave his volunteers (apparently they were particularly easy to recruit) either 100 grams of dark chocolate or a nonchocolate substitute, and then measured the health (responsiveness) of the lining of their arteries. It was
unaffected in the controls – but improved very significantly in the choco-nauts(1).
It has been suggested that we should beware of the Greeks bearing gifts; but within a month, a Boston and
Californian team of scientists published identical results(2); demonstrating a growing international
consensus that dark chocolate really is good for the arteries, and should protect against hypertension,
stroke, and coronary artery disease.
So is chocolate a health food? Chocolate makers trying
to promote the health benefits of their products face counter arguments from some nutritionists who say that
the weight gain from guzzling chocolate would cancel out much of the benefit. But there is more to it than that
– because clearly the type of chocolate you eat is important.
Alarmingly for the Milk Tray man, a team of researchers
from the National Institute for Food and Nutrition Research in Rome, Italy and the University of Glasgow in Scotland
have shown that while consumption of plain, dark chocolate increases the antioxidant capacity and the flavonoid content
of blood, these effects are halved when the chocolate is consumed with milk or eaten as milk chocolate(3, 4).
This is probably because, as shown in previous studies with black or white tea, milk blocks the uptake of flavonoids from the gut. With chocolate, therefore, as with tea, black is best.
- Vlachopolous C et al, Eur Soc Cardio AGM Report, Abs p638, 2004
- Engler MB et al, Journal of the American College of Nutrition, Vol. 23, No. 3, 197-
- Serafini M et al, Nature: Brief Communications 424:1013, 28 Aug 2003
- Serafini M, Crozier A, Nature: Brief Communications 426:88, 18 Dec 2003