Dark chocolate shown by researchers to improve heart health

The next time you rip open a dark chocolate candy bar, just tell yourself, "I'm eating this for my heart."

Researchers at San Diego State University released findings from a chocolate study Tuesday at the Experimental Biology conference in San Diego.

In the study, researchers took 31 subjects and fed each of them either dark chocolate or white chocolate. The participants ate chocolate for 15 days, while those conducting the experiment tracked their blood sugar levels, blood pressure and cholesterol level.

According to the study, those who received dark chocolate showed better cholesterol figures and a lower blood sugar level than participants who ate white chocolate. Conductors determined that dark chocolate eaters were less likely to have heart problems, such as cardiovascular disease, in the future.

The findings back up a 2009 study by Swedish researchers, in which they concluded that those who ate dark chocolate showed better survival rates after a heart attack. Additionally, a 2007 German study showed dark chocolate may also lower blood pressure, even when eaten daily in bite-size amounts.

So what is it about dark chocolate that gives it positive health properties? And why doesn't white chocolate produce the same results? The answers lie in the flavonoids. Flavonoids are pigment particles produced by plants. As expected, white chocolate, with its lack of pigment, lacks flavonoids. The cocoa present in dark chocolate holds a high level of flavonoids.

Past studies of flavonoids have shown the molecules to be anti-cancerous, anti-bacterial and act as anti-oxidants that can slow the effects of aging. Flavonoids can be found in many foods in addition to chocolate, including citrus fruits, red onion, tea and another guilty pleasure, red wine.

It is these other sources of flavonoids that researchers point to in an effort to curb overeating of chocolate. While chocolate has significant flavonoid concentration, there are healthier food options that provide the same benefits without the same amount of fat and calories. According to the study, moderation is key in balancing the benefits of dark chocolate against the high fat/caloric content that can lead to other health problems.

Participants in the study were told to eat no more than 50 grams of chocolate per day. As a point of reference, a regular Hershey's candy bar is 43 grams.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Comments

Submitted by Diana McCalla (not verified) on
When processed properly, dark chocolate has more antioxidants than any food known on the planet.  So it really doesn't matter what the cocoa content is if the beans are not processed property. Commercial processing destroys most of the fragile antioxidants. The only way you can be sure you are getting the health benefits is to choose a chocolate that has been certified for the amount of antioxidants as well as the amount of flavonoids.  Also, choose a chocolate that has no processed sugars (even organic processed sugars!), no bad fats nor caffeine.  There is a great article on the difference between "good" chocolate and "bad" chocolate at cocoa101blog.com.

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