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Here is some good and bad news for chocoholics. The good news is that dark chocolate can lower your blood pressure; the bad news is that only a very small amount of dark chocolate is needed. One study found that when a small amount of dark chocolate was added to the people’s diet on a regular basis, it helped reduce the subject’s blood pressure. The decrease in their blood pressure is due to the polyphenols and procyanids that can be found in cocoa products.
In a more recent study published in the Journal of Hypertension, researchers in Italy found that dark chocolate may lower blood pressure in people with hypertension. They found that their LDL (bad) cholesterol dropped by 10 percent. However, before running out to buy a couple of pounds of dark chocolate, it is important to note that this study was done on only 20 people, so I do not know about the accuracy of this study.
Another study found that cocoa had heart protective benefits. Researchers found that people with a diet high in polyphenol-rich cocoa powder and dark chocolate had slightly higher levels of HDL (good) cholesterol. One study found that people who consume chocolate had a reduced their risk of heart disease by 21 percent.
Dr. Norman Hollenberg, a Harvard professor, found that some of the Kuna Indians, who live in Panama, had lower blood pressure, less hypertension and suffered from less cardiovascular disease than their relatives. The difference between the two groups was that the Indians who still lived on the chain of islands consumed three to four cups of cocoa a day, while their relatives who had moved to the mainland, stopped drinking cocoa.
There is a scale called ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) that measures the antioxidant potency in various foods. Did you know that 100g of dark chocolate have a higher ORAC value than blueberries, pomegranates and even red wine! Although it tops the scale on the ORAC value, remember that too much chocolate will move your bathroom scale to reach new heights!
It is good to know that chocolate contains ingredients that not only taste good, but can also benefit your health. The British Medical Journal suggests that having 100 grams of dark chocolate every day can reduce blood pressure in men and women. Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health found that those who eat chocolate and sweets up to three times each month live almost a year longer than those who eat too much or those who avoid it altogether.
However, if you have a problem limiting yourself to a small portion of chocolate, you will not benefit from eating chocolate. When you overindulge in chocolate, it can and will cause weight gain. This extra weight will counteract any benefits on blood pressure that you may get from chocolate. Most chocolate bars are high in fat, sugar and calories. Therefore, moderation is the key. If you have a small dark piece of chocolate, it will taste good and benefit your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
When a recipe calls for chocolate, use dark chocolate, which usually contains less sugar or cocoa powder, which is an even better idea. To substitute 1 oz of unsweetened chocolate, use 3 Tbsp of dry cocoa + 2 Tbsp of sugar + 1 Tbsp of vegetable oil.
2/3 cup almonds, whole
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon instant espresso coffee
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2 egg whites
1 cup sugar or 1 cup Splenda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Directions: Preheat oven to 350°F. Place almonds in jellyroll pan and toast until golden. Cool nuts completely and then chop coarsely. Lower the oven temperature to 300°F. Spray a cookie sheet with Pam. Whisk flour, cocoa, instant espresso, baking soda and salt together in bowl. Place one quarter of flour mixture and chocolate chips in the food processor and process until very fine. Combine it with remaining flour and mix. Then, set it aside. Whisk whole eggs, egg whites, sugar, vanilla and almond extract in bowl until frothy. Stir in dry ingredients and nuts. The mixture will be thick and sticky.
Spoon batter into three 12×2-1/2-inch strips, at least 2-1/2 inches apart, on prepared cookie sheet. Even out the edges with a metal spatula. Bake 45 minutes on the lower rack in the oven. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Leave the oven on. Transfer loaves to a cutting board. Cut into 1/2-inch slices with serrated knife. Arrange cut side down on cookie sheet. Bake 12 minutes per side. Then cool and store.
This recipe yields 60 biscotti. Each biscotti provides: 47 calories, 1g fat, 7 mg cholesterol, 31 mg sodium, 7g carbohydrate and 1g protein.
Shani Goldner is a Registered Dietitian and a CDN with a Masters of Science. She has a private nutrition practice where she counsels children, adolescents and adults in weight loss, diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular health and cancer related nutrition. She can be reached at 718-854-5784. She is an Oxford provider. Phone consults are available. Please send questions or comments to nutritionina