C hocolate has been called theobroma — the food of the gods. It is the one food substance that women have a strong love-hate relationship with.

The healthy effects of chocolate are what all of us are interested in. Flavanoids and flavanols are plant molecules present in coloured vegetables, tea, wine and chocolate, among other food products.

The flavanol epicatechin is present in cocoa and supposedly improves blood flow and helps with heart health. Cocoa, the major ingredient of dark chocolate, contains relatively high amounts of epicatechin. White or milk chocolate lovers will be saddened to know that this type of chocolate is often devoid of flavanols, and has no health benefit.

It seems that the benefits of flavanols are almost never ending. By helping the body metabolise sugars, dark chocolate may actually reduce the risk of developing diabetes. Flavanols in dark chocolate also increase HDL (“good”) cholesterol and lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.

Dark chocolate can be deceptive. Many times, when we think we are eating dark chocolate, the colour is due to darkened cocoa solids; the chocolate itself does not actually contain too much cocoa. Manufacturers of chocolate remove the flavanols because they are bitter.

It is also unfortunate that the antioxidants in chocolate are rapidly removed from the body in the normal course of events. The antioxidants, therefore, do not have enough time to show their beneficial effect on the blood vessels and the heart.

The Lancet , a leading medical journal, pointed out that “the devil in dark chocolate is the fat, sugar, and calories it also contains.” So before reaching for that piece of chocolate, remember that it contains more calories than flavonols! If you want the benefit of flavonoids and flavanols, reach for a rainbow of fruits, tea or even a glass of red wine!

GITA ARJUN

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