Dark Chocolate for the Heart
Finally, some good news about a favorite sweet indulgence! Recent studies examining the health benefits of dark chocolate confirm that this delicious treat is actually beneficial for your heart.
According to research, dark chocolate contains more antioxidants and plant flavonoids (chemicals that provide antioxidant and antibiotic properties and control inflammation) than any other type of chocolate. These components prevent cholesterol from collecting in blood vessels, reduce the risk of blood clots, inhibit the immune response that can lead to clogged arteries, lower blood pressure and platelet activity, and eradicate free radicals and other destructive molecules in the body that can cause heart disease.
Standard processing of chocolate destroys up to half of its beneficial flavonoids, negating virtually all of its natural nutritional benefits. However, as evidence of the benefits of raw or minimally-processed dark chocolate mounts, chocolate producers have developed a way to turn out dark chocolate that retains up to 95 percent of its natural flavonoids
In fact, according to Mary Engler, PhD, RN, of the University of California, San Francisco, eating a small, 1.6-ounce bar of dark chocolate every day is very good for you. Engler and her colleagues studied the effects of dark chocolate on a group of 21 healthy adults. One half of the group was given a Dove Dark Chocolate bar every day for two weeks, and the other half was given a dark chocolate bar that had the flavonoids removed. Like other dark chocolate bars with high-cocoa content, the Dove bar is loaded with epicatechin, which has been found to be a particularly active type of flavonoid. All of the test subjects were evaluated to determine how well their blood vessels dilated and relaxed - an indicator of healthy blood vessel function. Those who ate the full-flavonoid chocolate showed significantly better results. "This is the longest clinical trial to date to show improvement in blood vessel function from consuming flavonoid-rich dark chocolate daily over an extended period of time," Engler said. "It is likely that the elevated blood levels of epicatechin triggered the release of active substances that ... increase blood flow in the artery. Better blood flow is good for your heart. Many people don't realize that chocolate is plant-derived, as are the fruits and vegetables recommended for a healthy heart."
But nutritionists warn that all this good news does not justify gorging on chocolate sundaes and other sweets just because they contain dark chocolate. Fat and sugar are added to most dark chocolate products, which can lead to weight gain and its associated heart disease. But taken in moderation, dark chocolate can be part of a heart-healthy diet