Nutrition Tips for Cancer Patients;
Dark Chocolate and Heart Health
by Cindy Collins, PhD, Rd
Treating ourselves to the special reward of dark chocolate occasionally may
have also some health advantages! They include potential protection for cardiovascular
disease and associated conditions. Many cancer patients also have heart disease and are
making an effort to combine the needs for both illnesses in their diet.
According to Elizabeth Mostofsky, Harvard School of Public health dark
chocolate may be helpful in reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke. The main
ingredient in chocolate is cocoa. Cocoa contains a phytochemical called flavanols.
This phytochemical enhances the level of nitric oxide in our bodies, which acts as a
vasodilator. This mechanism expands the walls of the blood vessels, improves circulation
and blood flow. Additionally, it increases insulin sensitivity and responsiveness, which is
important for peak physiological performance. Furthermore, it reduces the process of the
hardening of the arteries, which is known clinically as atherosclerosis.
Along with lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease, there have been studies
done that say consuming chocolate can decrease the chances of hypertension, lower
cholesterol, and even acting as an anti-inflammatory! The following study was described
in the article Mining the Riches of Dark Chocolate in Today’s Dietitian. Volunteers
were asked to consume 30-1000 mg/day of flavanols for 2 – 18 weeks. Outcome
measurements indicated that dark chocolate could significantly decrease blood pressure
by affecting both systolic or diastolic pre-hypertension measures. This study found
comparative effects of eating dark chocolate with physical activity on the lowering of
blood pressure! An additional comparison exists between the flavanols in dark chocolate
and the outcomes from the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet.
Unfortunately, milk chocolate does not have the same effects as dark chocolate.
Although it is cherished by many, milk chocolate contains trace amounts of flavanols.
Additionally, in order to gain the benefits from the flavanols in dark chocolate, it must
contain at least 70% cocoa. If it does not have a significant amount, there will be no
added health value.
Although researchers have discovered wonderful benefits to these treats, they are
mostly high in calories and sugar. If we want to make chocolate apart of our diet, we
need to ensure that it is in moderation. So, Denise Webb, author of Mining the Riches of
Dark Chocolate in Today’s Dietitian wants us to remember that: “The darker the
chocolate, the more bitter the taste and the more healthful it is for the heart!”
Here are a few fun ways to consume dark chocolate below:
Cocoa Banana Frozen Dessert:
- 4 very ripe bananas
- 2 tablespoons pure unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons real maple syrup
Peel bananas and put in a blender with cocoa powder, add vanilla extract and maple
syrup. Blend until smooth and pour into individual bowls and let freeze.
(You can find baking chocolate that is composed of 100% cocoa that would contain 709
mg/oz of flavanols!)
- 6 ounces dark chocolate at least 70%
- 3 ounces butter 3 ounces almond butter 3 eggs separated
- 6 tablespoons natural cane sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Fresh Berry Compote:
- 1 cup frozen raspberries
- defrosted 2 tablespoons pure cane sugar
- 1/4 cup water 3 cups fresh berries – blueberries, raspberries, blackberries
Melt chocolate, butter and almond butter without burning over a double broiler and then
let cool. Separate the egg and place the yolks in the bowl. Add 3 Tbs sugar and beat until
a light, pale yellow color (about 6 minutes). Slowly pour in the melted chocolate and mix
In a clean mixing bowl, add the eggs whites and whisk until frothy. Slowly pour in 3
Tbsp of sugar and mix until soft peaks form. Fold the whites into the chocolate/egg
Spray 4 oz ramekin or muffin cups with pan spray. Pour the batter into the molds, almost
to the top. Bake at 325 degrees for 12 minutes. Let cool before unmolding.
To serve: reheat at 300 degrees for 4 minutes. Spoon the fruit compote on top.
Dark Chocolate Covered Strawberries:
- 6 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
- 1 pound of strawberries washed and dried
Put the semisweet a heatproof medium bowl. Fill medium saucepan with a couple inches
of water and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Turn off the heat; set the bowl of
chocolate over the water to melt. Stir until smooth. (or melt the chocolate in a microwave
at half power, for 1 minute, stir and then heat for another minute or until melted.)
Once the chocolates are melted and smooth, remove from the heat. Line a sheet pan with
parchment or waxed paper. Dip the strawberries into the dark chocolate, lift and twist
slightly, letting any excess chocolate fall back into the bowl. Set strawberries on the
Set the strawberries aside until the chocolate sets, about 30 minutes.
To find out more on this topic refer to:
Webb, Densie. “Mining the Riches of Dark Chocolate.” Today’s Dietitian February
2012: 24-28. Print.
Weil, Andrew. http://www.drweil.com.