Chocolate for Heart Health? A Dream Come True...

I had a dream recently that I reached into my medicine cabinet, and there on the shelf was a little orange plastic pill bottle filled with chocolate.  The label said “Take three times daily, between meals.”
Could this be a dream come true, or could it be possible that eating more chocolate is associated with fewer cardiovascular events?  Well, the research is in, and it tastes great! 

The evidence shows that consumption of cocoa and other chocolates may keep high blood pressure down, your blood flowing and your heart healthy.  One German study of adult women, with a follow-up of 9.5 years, was published in 2009 in the European Heart Journal, citing that the 1,216 women in the study showed not only less prevelant carotid arterial plaque, but those who ate more chocolate were less frequently hospitalized or had fewer deaths from ischemic heart disease. 

Another German study of both middle-aged women and men, with an 8-year follow-up, indicated a connection between chocolate consumption and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attack and stroke.  Reduced systolic and diastolic blood pressure was also found in the subjects who consumed chocolate regularly. 

And the news gets sweeter... 

Research from the American Association for the Advancement of Science has shown a connection between flavonoid-rich foods and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.  Add to this recipe the fact that chocolate has been shown to be high in flavonoids, especially dark chocolate, resulting in more nitric oxide activity.  According to studies, nitric oxide plays a vital role in the maintenance of healthy blood pressure, and in turn, cardiovascular health. 

So there it is: a health-conscious dream come true!  Multiple components in chocolate, especially the flavonoids, seem to be the contributing factor in the complex interplay of nutrition and health.  The results of this fascinating connection includes recommendations by health professionals to encourage people to enjoy the delicious and wide range of flavonoid and phytochemical-rich foods, which can include dark chocolate in moderate amounts.

What amount then is considered moderate?  To a chocoholic, it might be a lot more than it is to a research scientist.  The average serving size in many of the European studies ranged from 19 grams to 30 grams, in contrast with the standard American portion size of 20 grams.

But keep this in mind; there are differences in the quality of the chocolate, and the flavonoid content of the chocolate.  The higher the cocoa content, the greater the heart benefits.  In European countries, even their milk chocolate has a higher cocoa concentration than dark chocolate sold in the U.S.  Standards in the United States only require 15 percent cocoa solids to qualify as dark chocolate.

 

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