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By Karen Alexander

Oncology Wellness Specialist on 07/07/2017

Can chocolate improve your heart health?

The cacao tree's botanical name is Theobroma Cacao, which means "food of the gods" in Greek. Chocolate was produced by pre-Olmec cultures living in present-day Mexico as early as 1900 B.C. The ancient Mesoamericans used to ferment, roast and grind cacao beans into a paste that they mixed with water, vanilla, honey, chili peppers and other spices to brew a bitter chocolate drink.

Chocolate has been widely studied due to its health benefits, which include:

  • Antioxidant properties
  • Reduction of stress levels
  • Skin protection against sun exposure
  • Reduced risk of developing atherosclerosis
  • Reduced risk of heart attack, stroke, and death

Recently, the Danish Diet, Cancer, and Health Study showed that chocolate may also reduce risk of atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation (also called AFib or AF) is a common and dangerous type of irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications. At least 2.7 million Americans are living with AF. People with AF are 5 times more likely to have a stroke and are at double the risk of heart-related death.

This study found that those who consume moderate amounts of chocolate are associated with significantly lowered risk of being diagnosed with AF. 55,502 men and women participated in the study, and were monitored for 13.5 years.

Compared with those who ate a 1-ounce serving of chocolate less than once per month, men and women who ate 1 to 3 servings per month had a 10% lower rate of AF, those who ate 1 serving per week had a 17% lower rate; and those who ate 2 to 6 servings per week had a 20% lower rate. It should be noted that those who ate more than 6 ounces per week didn’t show greater benefits. These results were similar in both men and women.  

In conclusion, a moderate intake of dark chocolate can be a healthy treat that reduces your risk for several chronic conditions, in particular cardiovascular diseases. Just make sure you are eating a dark chocolate with 70% or higher cocoa content and that you avoid chocolates with trans fats.

Recipe of the Week: Dark Chocolate Cookies

1 cup (125g) all-purpose flour (spoon & leveled)
1/3 cup (26g) natural unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup (26g) Hershey's special dark cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup (100g) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (100g) packed light or dark brown sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 Tablespoons (30ml) milk
1 cup (180g) semi-sweet or dark chocolate chunks and/or chips, plus a few more for topping

1. Whisk the flour, cocoa powders, baking soda and salt together until combined. Set aside.
2. In a large bowl using a hand-held or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter for 1 minute on medium speed until completely smooth and creamy. Add the granulated sugar and brown sugar and beat on medium high speed until fluffy and light in color. Beat in egg and vanilla on high speed. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.
3. On low speed, slowly mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until combined. The cookie dough will be thick. Switch to high speed and beat in the milk, then the chocolate chips. The cookie dough will be sticky. Cover dough tightly with aluminum foil or plastic wrap and chill for at least 3 hours and up to 3 days. Chilling is mandatory for this cookie dough, and overnight is recommended.
4. Remove cookie dough from the refrigerator and allow to sit at room temperature for 20 minutes-- if the cookie dough chilled longer than 3 hours, let it sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes. This makes the cookie dough easier to scoop and roll.
5. Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. (Always recommended for cookies.) Set aside.
6. Scoop and roll balls of dough, about 2 Tablespoons of dough each, into balls. Place on the baking sheets and sprinkle with a little sea salt.
7. Bake the cookies for 10 minutes, rotating the pan once during bake time. The baked cookies will look extremely soft in the centers when you remove them from the oven.
8. Allow to cool for 5 minutes on the cookie sheet. During this time, you can press a few more chocolate chips/chunks into the top of the warm cookies-- this is just for looks. You can also sprinkle with a little more sea salt as well. The cookies will slightly deflate as you let them cool. Transfer to cooling rack to cool completely.
Note: Cookies stay fresh covered at room temperature for up to 1 week.

*Recipe via Sally's Baking Addiction

Enjoy your weekend!

Karen Ambrosio, OWS

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