Dark chocolate, and in particular the cocoa in the chocolate, has exhibited significant health benefits in the last decade in numerous clinical studies. Cocoa is high in polyphenols, substances which help to lower inflammation in the body, boost the immune system, and scavenge free radicals. Just recently a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that cocoa also helps to lower blood pressure.
What are Polyphenols
Polyphenols are a type of bioflavonoid that we normally associate with fruits and vegetables, not chocolate. But what we often forget is that chocolate does come from a plant. But by the time it reaches our mouths it has been processed and things like milk, fat, and sugar have been added to make it more enjoyable to our palate.
Chocolate, or cocoa in its original form, contains more than 60% of procyanidins. This particular type of polyphenol is not present in as high amounts in teas, fruits or vegetables, and it appears this type is the most effective on blood pressure.
Measuring the Effect
To measure the effect of polyphenols on blood pressure researchers compared the regular use of black tea, green tea, and cocoa on blood pressure. They found that cocoa, consumed regularly for two weeks lowered blood pressure to the same degree of prescription medications. Black tea and green tea did not have such an effect.
The authors concluded that cocoa’s effect on blood pressure could have a dramatic impact on cardiovascular health and deaths due to stroke and heart attack. They estimated a potential decrease of 10-20 percent risk of stroke and heart attack.
But reader beware. Cocoa is the active agent here, not chocolate. Read the ingredient list on your favorite chocolate bar or treat and you will see that cocoa is farther down than you would expect. However, this can be remedied for chocolate lovers by seeking out the dark chocolate bars.
Some makers of chocolate bars will offer a 70-85 percent cocoa bar with minimal added sugar and fat. Using bulk chocolate may also be an option, again opting for the dark variety.
And make sure to avoid white chocolate. Because even though the flavor is excellent, white chocolate has had virtually all the polyphenols removed. Because of its relatively low polyphenol content, it does not offer any of the health benefits mentioned above.
Please remember the health benefits of dark chocolate are found in moderation. Excess consumption of dark chocolate on a daily basis may lead to weight gain and an increase in body fat. But when eaten in moderation, the health benefits are very apparent.