The Sweet Truth About Chocolate and Heart Health
Good news chocoholics, it turns out that this tasty little treat is good for your heart. According to an Italian study, dark chocolate has the potential to significantly reduce the inflammation that leads to cardiovascular disease.
“Studies have shown that heart benefits from dark chocolate include increased blood flow, less platelet stickiness and clotting, and improved LDL (bad) cholesterol.” – Mary Engler, PhD, RN, and chocolate researcher from the University of California, San Francisco.
Mary claims eating a small 1.6 ounce bar of dark chocolate every day is good for you after the longest clinical trial to date showed improvement in blood vessel function from consuming flavonoid-rich dark chocolate daily over an extended period of time. What chocolate lover would argue with that science?
Dark Chocolate Improves Blood Flow
A Japanese study suggests that dark chocolate can improve blood flow to the heart muscle. This is a very important finding since improvement in coronary blood flow lessens the risk of angina and heart attack, claims Yumi Shiina, PhD, of Chiba University in Chiba, Japan. The researchers measured an indicator that determines the ability of the coronary arteries to dilate and allow more blood flow to the heart muscle tissue. After two weeks, coronary circulation significantly improved in participants who ate dark chocolate. There was no change in participants who ate white chocolate.
Why Dark Chocolate?
Dark chocolate retains a higher flavonoid content than milk chocolate with low flavonoids, or white chocolate, which does not contain flavonoids at all. Flavonoids are antioxidants, and have been found to be responsible for chocolates heart health benefits. When the body lacks adequate levels of antioxidants, free radical damage can result and lead to increased LDL-cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol) oxidation and plaque formation on arterial walls.
Additional antioxidant capabilities from flavonoids also:
- Are believed to help reduce platelet aggregation
- May affect the relaxation capabilities of blood vessels
- May positively affect the balance of certain compounds that are thought to benefit the heart
There are factors to consider when consuming chocolate to help benefit the heart, as some forms of chocolate are more ideal over others. For example, most commercial chocolates have been over processed via fermentation, alkalizing, and roasting, which reduces the flavonoid content. Therefore, the higher the cocoa content, the better. It is also a good idea to skip sugar and fat laden dark chocolate products containing chewy caramel and marshmallows, as they are not considered heart-healthy options.
John Hopkins Medicine states, “when choosing dark chocolates, opt for the more expensive ones, as they usually have higher levels of flavonoids. Specifically, buy bittersweet chocolate with at least 60 percent cocoa content.”
How Much Chocolate Do I Need To Eat?
At this point in time there are no prescriptions for chocolate, but there are varying thoughts as to how much dark chocolate one may need to eat in order to gain heart protective benefits. For example, two studies have shown that a 1.4 to 1.6 ounce dark chocolate bar with a high cocoa content daily has contributed to cardiovascular health.
“Eating a little bit of chocolate or having a drink of hot cocoa as part of a regular diet is probably good for personal health, so long as people don’t eat too much of it, and too much of the kind with lots of butter and sugar.” – Diane Becker, M.P.H., Sc.D., and professor at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Bloomberg School of Public Health.
It is important to remember while a little dark chocolate is good, a lot is not better, as chocolate is still high in calories.
When choosing a chocolate product find those with:
- Less calories
- Less sugar
- Less butter fat
- More cocoa content