Are you facing high blood cholesterol and are planning to cut down your chocolate intake for it? Actually, there might be no need to deprive your sweet tooth. Various studies show that having small amounts of dark chocolate enables you to reap a few unexpected health benefits.
What is Cholesterol?
It is a naturally-occurring chemical compound mainly produced by the liver. Cholesterol acts as a building block for hormones (testosterone and estrogen) and cell membranes and is a permutation of steroid and fat (lipid, lipoproteins). Liver produces nearly 80% of the cholesterol and the rest is made available through our diet, which includes dairy products, poultry, meat, and fish.
We require cholesterol to make hormones, to build cell membrane, digest our fatty foods, and other body functions. However, there is a darker side of cholesterol too. When the cholesterol level in the blood becomes high it leads to damage of arteries by narrowing them, hence causing an obstruction in the blood circulation. Thereby the chances of an increase in heart attacks and coronary diseases are extremely amplified.
The three main classes of the lipoproteins present in the blood are:
Low density lipoproteins (LDL) – considered as “bad cholesterol” and constitutes 60% -70% of the total cholesterol. These lipoproteins generally build up on the walls of the arteries and block the passage for normal blood circulation, which may result in unnecessary strain on your heart muscles and high blood pressure. H
igh density lipoproteins (HDL) – considered as “good cholesterol” and constitutes 20%-30% of the total cholesterol. Studies have shown that HDL helps in protecting us from atherosclerosis development. It takes the excess cholesterol from the walls of the arteries and takes it to the liver from where it can be easily eliminated.
Very low density lipoproteins (VLDL) – cousin of HDL…
Dark Chocolate Cholesterol Benefits
The most important chemical compound present in dark chocolate, i.e. the flavonoids, is the same compound found in red wine and responsible for lowering the LDL cholesterol. The high cocoa content of dark chocolates makes it one of the best varieties of chocolates, and it also retains 95% of its flavonoids. Cocoa being derived from vegetables and plants make it a healthier option. The polyphenol rich cocoa reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases. The antioxidant rich levels also increase the HDL cholesterol.
Is the fat present in cocoa butter good for cholesterol? Yes! The fat that comes from the cocoa butter constitutes of equal amounts of stearic acid, palmitic acids, and oleic acid (a monosaturated fat also present in olive oil and is good for the heart). The stearic acid has a neutral effect on cholesterol.
Perhaps the best benefit of dark chocolate on your cholesterol levels:
Cocoa is generously full of polyphenols (procyanidins and catechins), which helps in preventing the oxidation of LDL cholesterol and averts the chances of atherogenesis. The high antioxidant level of cocoa in dark chocolate increases the plasma HDL, thereby reducing the LDL.
Another study was done on apolipoproteins A1 and B produced by the cocoa polyphenols. These apolipoproteins are proteins that get attached to the lipids (oil like cholesterol) and make them water soluble so that they get easily carried away in our water-based system. This whole procedure makes them less sticky, which prevents them from accumulating on the walls of the arteries.
The flavonoids release nitric oxide, which helps in the relaxation of blood pressure and also maintains some hormones of the body.
Regardless of the health benefits in dark chocolate, you should not consume it with every meal. It should only be consumed in moderation and should not be replacing other healthy flavonoid sources of foods like blueberries, grapes, and acai berry.