Researchers from the University Hospital of Cologne in Germany reviewed a total of 10 trials published since 1966 that studied changes of blood pressure relative to cocoa or tea intake. Researchers found that intake of foods rich in cocoa may help to reduce blood pressure, while tea intake appeared to have no effect. They suggested a specific type of polyphenol, procyanids, found in cocoa products may be more active in heart disease prevention than flavonoids, the type of polyphenols usually found in tea. The results of this study were published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in April 2007.
Health Benefits of Chocolate?
In a more recent study published in Hypertension journal in August 2005, researchers from Italy found that dark chocolate may lower blood pressure in people with hypertension. The research also found that levels of low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in these individuals dropped by 10 percent. It is important to note that this study also used a very small test group of only 20 subjects.
A few other studies also suggested that cocoa may have heart protective effects. In November 2001, researchers from Pennsylvania State University found that people with a diet high in polyphenol-rich cocoa powder and dark chocolate have slightly higher concentrations of HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol) when compared with the control group. This study, however, only investigated the health effects of cocoa in 23 people.
The Bottom Line
It is good to know that chocolate contain ingredients beneficial to health. However, it does not necessarily mean you should eat more chocolate products. Most studies published so far were rather small in scale. In addition, chocolate bars and candies are often high in fat, sugar and calories. Moderation is always the key – having a decadent piece of chocolate once in a while is not going to harm your health.
If you would like to include more foods with high levels of antioxidants, fruits & vegetables, as well as whole grains would be a better bet as they are low in calories and high in vitamins and fiber. For a sensible heart smart diet, emphasize fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fatty fish and choose skinless lean meats.
Chocolate Recipe Substitution: When a recipe calls for chocolate, use dark chocolate (usually less sugar) or even better cocoa powder. To substitute 1 oz of unsweetened chocolate, use 3 Tbsp of dry cocoa + 2 Tbsp of sugar + 1 Tbsp of vegetable oil.
Gloria Tsang is the author of 5 books and the founder of HealthCastle.com, the largest online nutrition network run by registered dietitians. Her work has appeared in major national publications, and she is a regularly featured nutrition expert for media outlets across the country. The Huffington Post named her one of its Top 20 Nutrition Experts on Twitter. Gloria’s articles have appeared on various media such as Reuters, NBC & ABC affiliates, The Chicago Sun-Times, Reader’s Digest Canada, iVillage and USA Today.