As if you needed another reason to get your hands on some chocolatey goodness, chocolate could reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. Dark chocolate is rich in fibre, minerals and antioxidants, all of which lower your risk of heart disease. The key factor is the abundance of flavanols found in chocolate. These antioxidants benefit the vascular system by stimulating the production of nitric oxide. This lowers the resistance of the arteries to blood flow, which decreases blood pressure. One experimental study found that after four weeks of regularly consuming dark chocolate, participants exhibited significantly improved dilation of the blood vessels and significantly decreased platelet adhesion (which in high levels can increase the risk of clotting). Another study found that consumption of cocoa powder significantly decreased LDL cholesterol (the bad type) and increased HDL cholesterol (the good type.)
One study of 12,000 adults in Norfolk followed participants for 12 years and found that individuals who ate up to 3.5 ounces of chocolate a day had a 14% lower risk of heart attack and 23% lower risk of stroke. Another observational study found that regular consumption reduced the mortality risk of cardiovascular disease by 15%.
There are a few caveats. We are not advocating eating a huge amount of chocolate every day. Chocolate still contains sugars and fats that in excess contribute to obesity and diabetes. Individuals who have artificial pacemakers, cardiac arrhythmias or atrial fibrillation could be adversely affected by the caffeine contained in chocolate so do not stock up on chocolate without first consulting your doctor.
If that weren’t impressive enough, other studies have shown dark chocolate could offer all sorts of other health benefits too, such as reduced insulin resistance, improved circulation, increased libido and decreased memory decline.
Further research needs to be done to determine the optimal amount of chocolate needed to reap these benefits, but 1 to 2 ounces three or four days a week is a good starting point. Remember, the less processed the chocolate is, the more flavanols it will contain so aim for organic products with at least 70% cocoa content. Watch this space for further research, but chocolate’s reputation is set to grow.