Health Benefits for Dark Chocolate
Every once in a while you get the idea there is a little justice in this world. Research continues to reveal multiple benefits of dark chocolate creating one of those rare taste good/feel good stories. It started with reports that anywhere from 6.3 to 100g of dark chocolate per day delivered enough polyphenols from cocoa to improve endothelial nitric oxide leading to progressive reductions in systolic and diastolic blood pressure of up to 12/8 mmHg all without adverse effects such as weight gain (as long as it was offset by reducing calories from other food).
The next health benefit discovered was that dark chocolate increased coronary vasodilation (artery diameter) and reduced platelet adhesion, important factors in good heart health. The additional and most fascinating finding in this study was that the dark chocolate benefit was additive even for patients on primary drug therapy such as ACE inhibitors and beta blockers. The study also deduced that the effect was due to the flavanoid branch of the polyphenol family, specifically the epicatechins found in cocoa. In this study as little as 40g of 70% cocoa dark chocolate produced the effect.
Still another study not only confirmed the blood pressure lowering and insulin sensitivity benefits of dark chocolate but also found that when fortified with plant sterols it lowered LDL cholesterol as well. The Mars Company is marketing such a product with the trade name "Cocovia." One additional study found the same health benefits related to LDL oxidation, platelet aggregation, insulin sensitivity, endothelial function, and blood pressure were attributed to other cocoa containing products such as hot chocolate.
As if this was not enough, a recent study released in late September has added a new benefit, C-Reactive Protein (CRP) reduction. CRP has been widely implicated as a biomarker for inflammation and as a risk factor for heart disease. The 17% average CRP reduction translated to anywhere from a one-quarter to one-third reduction in cardiovascular risk. The study also helped establish parameters for dark chocolate consumption. Researchers found that the optimum dose was 20g every 3 days with a diminished effect as the dosage increased. This was an effect similar to that with flavanoids in wine and likely due to the associated lipid and caloric increases from over-consumption.
Here is the list of heart health consumer takeaways these studies we should add to our practice of empowered, self-directed health care.
1. Dark chocolate can be a flavorful and healthful treat to our heart disease prevention program.
2. We should note that the benefit is provided by the flavanoid content of the cocoa. Not all dark chocolate has high cocoa content. In fact, the flavanoid content can be destroyed by processing. We must rely on manufacturers to state the flavanoid content as part of their future marketing strategies. Though far from perfect, use a minimum of "70% cocoa" labeling as a temporary guide in the absence of flavanoid content labeling.
3. More is not better. The most recent study showed that at least some of the cardioprotective benefits of dark chocolate are lost by over consumption. It appears the consumption range should be anywhere from 20 grams every third day to no more than 100g (about 3.5 ounces - a large bar) per day. The key seems to be that you should eliminate an equal number of calories from other foods as you add from the inclusion of dark chocolate in your diet.
Looking out for your heart health - HeartHawk