Chocolate for Heart Health

Since high blood pressure is such a significant and pervasive health issue in this country, I pay attention to the new research on it. I always stick with the basics of a healthy diet, such as one high in veggies and fruits. Many people with high blood pressure need the minerals like potassium that can be found in veggies, but new research shows us that there are other compounds in the plant world that can be helpful. One example is flavonols, antioxidants found in grapes, apples, red wine, tea and cocoa. I am going to focus on this last one because there has been a surge in research on the heart benefits of cocoa and chocolate.

A recent analysis of many different studies showed that dark chocolate can help lower blood pressure by a few points. This isn’t a huge reduction but could be added to other interventions to reach a healthy goal. More importantly, another multi-study analysis showed that people who ate 2 servings of chocolate per week had a 37% lower risk of cardiovascular disease and 29% lower stroke risk. These benefits are partially attributed to the cocoa flavanols antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. These cocoa compounds are also thought to help prevent atherosclerotic plaque formation in the arteries and improve insulin sensitivity to support better blood sugar control. Of particular interest was another recent study showing improved cognitive functioning among elderly adults who consumed higher amounts of cocoa. The study’s authors noted that the effects in cognition were most closely linked to the improvements in insulin sensitivity.

One of the big worries about chocolate is that it often comes in high fat and high sugar forms. Too much chocolate consumption could contribute to weight gain, which can increase blood pressure and other health problems. For chocolate, find a bar that has a low sugar content and high cocoa content. Cocoa nibs are another option since they are unsweetened. Maybe limit chocolate consumption to twice a week like in the heart health study, since that seemed to be sufficient. On the non-chocolate days, consider having other blood pressure reducing foods like green, black, and hibiscus teas.

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