Dark chocolate is a “wonder food” — it really is. It packs an exceptional nutrient punch in a very small dose. You don’t want to eat too much of it on a daily basis, because it’s full of sugar and calories. But on the other hand, what are you missing by not having it?
Here is a quick rundown of an adequate answer:
• Antioxidants: Maybe more than any other food.
• Flavonoids: Natural plant chemicals protect you from chronic disease, especially of the heart.
• Cocoa phenols: Lower your blood pressure.
• Fatty acids: “Stearic” and “oleic” acids can neutralize and lower cholesterol.
• Phytochemicals: A flurry of natural chemicals constantly being studied for their health benefits.
• Fiber: High content means that you absorb all its nutrients well.
• Epicatechin: Antioxidant that protects “LDL” cholesterol from being dangerously “oxidized”.
• Essential minerals: High levels of copper, iron, magnesium, potassium and manganese.
The fourth on that list (fatty acids) may be responsible for new findings out of Germany. Researchers there have proof that dark chocolate can lower blood pressure — a notion that hadn’t been proven until now.
They addressed it in a small study of 44 adults between 56 and 73 years of age.
Each person had high blood pressure or was just on the cusp of having it. Otherwise, they were healthy and taking no drugs. They were split into two groups: one received 30-calorie pieces of dark chocolate each day for more than four months; the other got doses of white chocolate. The latter doesn’t contain cocoa, the premium health ingredient in dark chocolate.
In the end, people in the dark-chocolate group had lowered systolic blood pressure by about three points and diastolic by about two. The white-chocolate group had no change at all. This doesn’t promise that this sinful treat can beat high blood pressure itself — you still need an overall healthy diet and exercise.
This is another strong sign that dark chocolate is an excellent aid for your cardiovascular system. But don’t eat too much! The amount used in this study was roughly the same as a tiny Hershey’s “Kiss.”
Deeper Into Dark Chocolate
For a long while now, scientists have known that dark chocolate protects your heart by working against the risk factors that raise the specter of heart disease. Because of its healthful ingredients, listed above, the food can combat high cholesterol, high blood pressure and hardened arteries.
In a 2005 study, white chocolate was again the comparison. Healthy individuals eating dark chocolate each day had a greater ability to break down blood-sugar levels (thus preventing diabetes). Also, these people had significantly lower blood pressure after just two weeks. This finding has been replicated in other studies. The difference is cocoa and the abundance of flavonoids in it.
And what about those antioxidants? A 2003 study had a dozen adults eat either 100 grams (g) of dark chocolate, 100 g along with a glass of milk, or 200 g of milk chocolate. Just 60 minutes later, those on dark chocolate alone had the most antioxidants. Researchers believe that milk from milk chocolate actually interferes with your body’s absorption of antioxidants. Dark wins again.
Last year, a study sought to find out exactly how regular, everyday chocolate consumption influenced the heart’s health. In the first chemical analysis of chocolate and our bodies, researchers found that blood platelets are less likely to clot together and form harmful clumps. This suggests that if you add dark chocolate to your healthy diet, it can provide added protection for your heart.
Researchers looked at 140 people with a family history of heart disease. In order to prevent clotting, they kept up an exercise program, didn’t smoke and didn’t eat or drink anything known to activate blood platelets. This included chocolate.
But then a funny thing happened: some people in this study loved chocolate so much that they couldn’t stop eating it. They were called “chocolate offenders,” and they were caught, but instead of disqualifying them, the researchers decided to use them as a separate analysis. And in these individuals, they first noticed that chocolate appeared to slow blood clotting and cause less platelet activity than what was going on in the other participants.
Without the platelets getting activated, it means that there isn’t as much clumping in the body. Researchers call the chocolate difference “very significant.” Everything that one eats affects platelet function and the length of time that it takes for blood to clot. So if your platelet activity is slower, it means that your blood is less “sticky,” less likely to clot and less likely to cause changes that could lead to a heart attack.