As if the world needs another reason to love chocolate, researchers from King’s College London have concluded that the darling dark dessert should be included on a list of foods that may help stave off type 2 diabetes.
In a first-of-its-kind study, researchers examined how regularly consuming foods high in two key flavonoids—flavones and anthocyanins—affected blood sugar control and inflammation in a group of nearly 2,000 women. Those who ate diets rich in these particular compounds had lower insulin resistance and less overall inflammation when compared to those who ate fewer flavonoids.
Better blood sugar control can cut down on a person’s diabetes risk, while less inflammation may reduce their chances of acquiring a host of dangerous health conditions, including heart disease, stroke, cancer—even Alzheimer’s.
“This is an exciting finding that shows that some components of foods that we consider unhealthy like chocolate or wine may contain some beneficial substances,” King’s College professor and research collaborator, Tim Spector, said in a press release. “If we can start to identify and separate these substances, we can potentially improve healthy eating.”
Food sources of flavonoids
Flavonoids are chemical compounds that bestow a plethora of health benefits, from the antioxidant to the anti-inflammatory. The consumption of flavonoids has been linked with a decreased vulnerability to certain chronic diseases, such as cancer and heart disease.
There are more than 4,000 known flavonoids, many of which are found in fruits and vegetables. Here’s a list of flavonoid-rich foods and beverages:
- Red wine
- Tea (especially green and white)
- Beans (black and pinto)
- Berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries)
- Red and purple grapes
Chocolate as a health food?
Chocolate owes its place on the list of high-flavonoid foods to its primary ingredient: the cocoa bean.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, the strong taste of unprocessed chocolate is due to the cocoa bean’s naturally high flavanol content. Weakening this taste via treatments such as roasting and fermentation degrades the overall flavanol content of the beans, and thus the chocolate’s health benefits. So if you’re hankering for a sweet treat, it’s best to stick to dark chocolate varieties that have gone through minimal processing; this will ensure that most of the flavanols are still present.
Of course, too much chocolate is a no-no for those wanting to ward off diabetes and other diseases. Obesity—recently named an official disease by the American Medical Association—is the main contributor to type 2 diabetes and is a harbinger of many chronic ailments.
It’s better to stick primarily to fruit and vegetable sources of flavonoids. These unprocessed plant foods tend to have the highest concentration of the beneficial compounds, in addition to containing other healthful vitamins and minerals. But the good news is, it appears as though indulging small amounts of the right kind of chocolate now and again is nothing to feel guilty about.
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By Anne-Marie Botek, AgingCare.com Editor