17 Sep Does chocolate reduce heart disease risk? 6 facts
Many of us may lump chocolate with ‘junk food’, a food item we fight to resist when we pass it in the supermarket aisle. Yet is chocolate truly bad for you? Recent studies suggest otherwise. Here are 6 fast facts that show it may be fine to indulge (in moderation):
1. Dark chocolate has been proven to reduce blood pressure
Not all chocolate is created equal, nutrition-wise. Some chocolate is loaded with sugar and saturated fats such as palm oil.
Dark chocolate, by contrast, has a higher cocoa content. A recent study conducted by the Polytechnic Institute of Coimbra and the University of Gothenburg in Sweden found that eating 20 grams of chocolate with 90% cocoa content every day for a month can reduce blood pressure substantially. Although the sample was small and specific (30 healthy participants aged 18-27), it’s promising news for chocolate lovers.
2. Dark chocolate reduces systolic blood pressure counts
One of the elements measured in the recent trial was systolic pressure in two groups, one that ate chocolate containing 55 percent cocoa and one that ate chocolate with a 90% cocoa content.
‘Systolic pressure’ refers to the amount of pressure in the arteries when the heart contracts. In the test group that ate the darker chocolate for the trial, systolic pressure was reduced by a larger amount than the milk chocolate group.
3. Dark chocolate reduces diastolic pressure counts
Another type of pressure used to measure blood pressure is ‘diastolic pressure’. This refers to arterial pressure when the heart is at rest.
In the group that ate 90% cocoa chocolate, this pressure was also reduced by a larger amount at the end of the trial. Moderate dark chocolate consumption thus reduced blood pressure measures of both types. This suggests positive benefits to eating dark chocolate regularly for cardiovascular health.
4. Cocoa contains flavanols that provide multiple health benefits
One of the reasons cocoa-containing products can be good for you in moderation is they contain flavanols. These are compounds found in many of the things we consume, including tea. Flavanols have anti-inflammatory as well as anti-oxidant and anti-tumour qualities.
According to Howard LeWine of Harvard Health, flavanols not only help to lower blood pressure but improve blood flow to the brain and heart, prevent blood clots and combat cell damage.
Flavanols aren’t found in all kinds of chocolate, however. Responsible for chocolate’s bitter taste, chocolate products such as white and milk chocolate are stripped of flavanols (or contain no cocoa except cocoa butter, in the case of white chocolate) to keep this type sweeter.
5. Unprocessed chocolate is best
Whether or not chocolate is healthy for you is not as simple as the cocoa content. Highly processed chocolate which has had the flavanols stripped to provide a mellower flavour, or contains many synthetic additives, may do as much bad as some ingredients do good. It’s thus important to eat chocolate that is as unprocessed as possible. This has seen health food retailers stock up on raw cacao products and other unprocessed chocolates that provide the maximum benefit of high cocoa content.
6. Chocolate may help to prevent atherosclerosis
A further possible benefit of chocolate for heart health is it may help to prevent atherosclerosis (the hardening of the arteries, inhibiting blood flow).
According to one study of 1, 200 women cited by WebMD, women who ate chocolate frequently (seven or more times per week) were found to have the fewest atherosclerosis-related events (i.e. they had the least symptoms of hardened arteries).
Researchers took their investigation further – they looked at hospital records for people who ate chocolate one to six times per week and found that this group had a lower rate of heart disease, heart failure and arterial blockages than similar patient samples who did not eat chocolate frequently.
Given the above facts and findings of the links between chocolate and heart health, it may be tempting to guzzle slab after slab (of dark chocolate). More studies still need to be carried out, however, to determine further (and long-term) benefits and risks. Even so, a few more blocks of dark chocolate per week could very well be the ticket to a healthier heart.