Secret of Why Dark Chocolate Is Good For You
The next time you eat dark chocolate, visualize your arteries becoming more flexible. That is probably not the image that comes to mind when you are enjoying your sweet treat, yet it is one that researchers are talking about since they uncovered the secret of why dark chocolate is good for your health.
Before you run to the store to stock up on candy bars, it’s important to point out that the benefits of the sweet are associated with dark chocolate and not milk chocolate. In addition, the more the cocoa is processed through roasting, fermentation, and alkalizing, the more the beneficial compounds called flavanols are destroyed.
The randomized, double-blind, crossover study involved 44 overweight men (ages 45 to 70) who consumed 70 grams daily of either flavanol-enriched or regular dark chocolate over two different four-week periods. Researchers documented the changes in a number of heart-related factors, which are explained below. They also wanted to see if chocolate enriched with flavanols provided any additional benefits.
Here’s what they found:
- Eating dark chocolate for four weeks increased flow-mediated dilation by 1 percent and decreased augmentation index by 1 percent
- Consuming dark chocolate also lowered leukocyte cell count, plasma sICAM1 and sICAM3 (soluble intracellular adhesion molecules) and leukocyte adhesion marker expression
Overall, these findings mean that researchers now have a better understanding of how dark chocolate can benefit the heart and specifically endothelial health. They also found that increasing the flavanol content of the chocolate did not improve the benefits and actually made the chocolate less palatable.
The observed changes associated with eating dark chocolate in this study showed that it helped restore flexibility to the arteries and also assisted in stopping white blood cells from adhering to the walls of the blood vessels. Stiff arteries and an accumulation of white blood cells on the walls of blood vessel walls are both significant risk factors for atherosclerosis.
Benefits of dark chocolate
Numerous previous studies have pointed out health benefits of dark chocolate. For example:
- A recent BMJ study noted that dark chocolate can lower the occurrence of cardiovascular event such as strokes and heart attacks in people who have metabolic syndrome
- A meta-analysis evaluated the effect of chocolate intake on diabetes, incidence of cardiovascular disease and mortality, and coronary heart disease and found that those who consumed the most chocolate had a 37 percent reduction in cardiovascular disease and a 29 percent reduction in stroke when compared with those who consumed the least amount.
- Eating chocolate improved muscle function in patients with heart failure and type 2 diabetes in one study
- A Spanish study found that eating dark chocolate reduced damage to the blood vessels in patients with cirrhosis and also lowered blood pressure in the liver.
Someday researchers will likely develop a pill that provides all the health benefits of dark chocolate but without the calories and the sweet pleasure so many people now enjoy. But I don’t think chocolate producers have to worry about losing their market share given how much people love chocolate.
De Gottardi et al. Dark chocolate attenuates the post-prandial increase in HVPG in patients with cirrhosis and portal hypertension. Journal of Hepatology 2010; 52S9
Esser D et al. Dark chocolate consumption improves leukocyte adhesion factors and vascular function in overweight men. The FASEB Journal 2013; 28(3): 1464
Zomer E et al. The effectiveness and cost effectiveness of dark chocolate consumption as prevention therapy in people at high risk of cardiovascular disease: best case scenario analysis using a Markov model. BMJ 2012; 344(May 30):e3657