Eat Your Chocolate!

As if you needed another excuse to eat chocolate, right? Well new research has reported that a small daily intake of dark chocolate helps lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk for diabetes.

It’s already known among connoisseurs that eating chocolate seems to release the same set of pleasurable endorphins liberated during orgasm. Adding to that highly fortunate side effect, researchers at Tufts University have now said that dark chocolate may lower blood pressure by an average of ten percent and improve the body’s sensitivity to insulin.

These benefits, though, only apply to dark chocolate, which is rich in antioxidant flavonoids. The same antioxidants are found in fruit and red wine. Milk chocolate and white chocolate, which are absent in the antioxidant flavonoids, do not yield the same beneficial qualities.

Previous studies suggest flavonoid-rich foods, including fruits, vegetables, tea, red wine and chocolate, offer cardiovascular benefits, but this is one of the first clinical trials to look specifically at dark chocolate’s effect on lowering blood pressure among people with hypertension.

The study found that three ounces of dark chocolate per day for several weeks reduced blood pressure in patients with essential hypertension while also having a positive effect on insulin sensitivity. It suggests that cocoa flavonoids appear to have benefits on vascular function and glucose sensitivity. The caveat is that chocolate is still a high-calorie food and the study authors do not advocate for over-consumption, merely that dark chocolate could be added to an overall healthful diet without upping caloric intake.

In this trial, published in the July 2011 edition of the journal Hypertension, 3.5 ounces of dark chocolate or white chocolate were given every day to a group of men and women for 15 days. All subjects had high blood pressure and were not on blood pressure medication. Half of the subjects were given dark chocolate while the other half were given white chocolate. After 15 days, the patients had no chocolate for a week. Then each half switched to the other chocolate for the remaining time. White chocolate seemed to be the perfect control food because it contains all the other ingredients and calories found in dark chocolate, but without the beneficial flavonoids. During the time patients ate dark chocolate, their systolic blood pressure (top number) decreased by an average of 11.9 mm Hg. The diastolic (the bottom number) dropped by an average of 8.5 mm Hg. White chocolate showed no ability to lower blood pressure.

This is not only a statistically significant effect, but it’s also a clinically meaningful decline. This is the kind of reduction in blood pressure often found with other interventions.

Dark chocolate also seemed to improve how the body processed insulin and to reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the protein that carries bad cholesterol by an average of 10 percent.

It’s important to note that the dark chocolate used in this study had a high level of flavonoids, giving it a slightly bittersweet taste. Much of the commercially produced chocolate on the market is milk chocolate, which has a low amount of these compounds.

To benefit from chocolate consumption, it must be 75% cocoa or higher.

Other Research Extolling the Benefits of Chocolate:
Cocoa, diabetes, and hypertension: should we eat more chocolate?
Chocolate consumption and cardiometabolic disorders: systematic review and meta-analysis
Dark chocolate and blood pressure: a novel study from Jordan