A new study just came out adding to the growing body of research pointing to the conclusion that dark chocolate is a serious health food.
You’ve heard me go on about the health benefits of dark chocolate more times than we both can count. But the research just keeps coming in, and dark chocolate keeps looking better and better!
We already know from a previous study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology that women with the highest weekly chocolate intake (45 grams a week or more) had about 1/3 the number of strokes as women who consumed the least amount of chocolate.
We also know that dark chocolate:
- lowers blood pressure
- is an anti-inflammatory, and a vasodilator
- and that higher levels of chocolate consumption are associated with a whopping 37% reduction in the risk of cardiometabolic diseases including diabetes, stroke, cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome.
The new study—published in the Journal of Nutrition—examined the effect of flavonoid-rich cocoa on major cardiovascular risk factors including:
- blood pressure
- cholesterol, BMI (a measure of overweight)
- C-Reactive Protein (a measure of inflammation)
- fasting blood sugar
- fasting insulin
- insulin sensitivity/insulin resistance
The researchers performed what’s called a meta-analysis, which is a study of other studies; researchers gather a whole bunch of papers (in this case twenty four) pool the information and look for consistent trends and findings.
In this case, they found that flavonoid rich cocoa definitely affects a whole bunch of cardiovascular risk factors. Flavonoid-rich cocoa consumption significantly improved blood pressure, insulin resistance and lipid profiles.
Researchers have long suspected that the health benefits of dark chocolate are due to the high flavonoid content of cocoa. Flavonoids are plant chemicals with multiple health benefits- they’re antioxidants and anti-inflammatories. The specific flavonoids found in dark chocolate are called flavanols, and are believed to be responsible for the benefits.
The flavanols in cocoa also do something else that’s very important. They modulate a compound in the body called nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is critical for healthy blood flow and healthy blood pressure and is a very important compound in the area of cardiovascular health. One reason that chocolate lowers blood pressure may well be that flavanol-rich cocoa actually supports the body’s ability to synthesize nitric oxide.
Remember, all chocolate is not created equal! To get the kinds of benefits on cardiovascular health that the studies all point to, you must consume dark chocolate with a high cocoa content (60% or more, preferably 65-70%). As the percentage of cocoa goes up, the chocolate bar tastes less sweet and more bitter.
A 100% dark cocoa bar is almost inedible; but a bar with around 60-75% still tastes great and yet doesn’t tend to spark cravings the way a high-sugar bar would. Remember that commercial chocolate bars—milk chocolate, white chocolate, low-cocoa dark chocolate—tend t0.o be filled with sugar and chemicals. For the real deal, go for the organic kind and make sure the cocoa content is high so you’re assured of getting all those beneficial flavanols!