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Show someone you love them with Dark Chocolate
By Jennifer Morganti, ND, Director of Education for NEEDS

Are you a fan of dark chocolate, but feel guilty about consuming it? We have good news to help assuage your guilt! Chocolate has become a popular subject for scientific research, proving to have a positive impact on health. As a tribute to Valentine's Day, we'd like to highlight the benefits of chocolate to the heart.

One of the constituents in chocolate, particularly really pure, dark chocolate, with a cocoa content of at least 70%, is an antioxidant that falls under the umbrella of flavonols. Flavonols are found in a lot of plant foods, such as berries, beans and onions, but what could be more tempting than chocolate? These particular antioxidants are especially beneficial to the blood vessels, helping to reduce vascular disease and increase nitric oxide production which induces vasodilation, resulting in blood pressure reduction.

A large study in Germany evaluated the effects of regular chocolate consumption on blood pressure over a ten-year period. The fortunate folks who ate the largest amount of chocolate, averaging 7.5 grams daily, had reduced blood pressure and significantly lower risk of stroke and heart attack as compared to the group who ate the smallest quantity of chocolate (1.7 grams) daily. The top group of chocolate consumers had a 27% reduced risk of heart attack and a 48% reduced risk of stroke as compared to those in the lowest group. Some of this was attributed to the fact that the highest consuming group started with lower blood pressure, but that was presumably due to the effects of a long history of chocolate consumption.

One downside of this study is that the authors did not specify what kind of chocolate they consumed, but a random sampling of the participants found that milk chocolate was the most common, followed by dark chocolate and then a small percentage of white chocolate (which contains the least amount of flavonols). We do know that dark chocolate has significantly higher levels of flavonols as compared to other forms, so it would take smaller amounts (thus less calories) of dark chocolate as compared to the milk variety to gain the desired effects.

Consuming dark chocolate is certainly a healthy treat, but be sure not to overindulge—it still has lots of fat and calories and can lead to weight gain. And be sure to stick with the favonol-rich dark chocolate for maximum benefits and the least amount of sugar.

European Heart Journal. 2010, 31(13); 1616-1623

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