Q. Is it true that chocolate is good for your heart?
A. Increasingly, research shows that dark chocolate, specifically, can lower blood pressure and boost the “good cholesterol,” HDL. This is due to cocoa flavanols, which are powerful antioxidants. A recent study published in the scientific journal Nature revealed that dark chocolate, but not milk chocolate, is full of antioxidants. This study also indicates that drinking milk with the chocolate may interfere with the absorption of antioxidants from the chocolate and should be avoided. The more chocolate is processed, the more flavanols and their antioxidant properties are lost. While the main powerful effect of dark chocolate comes from the cocoa (cacao) flavanols, it is important to know how much of cacao content the chocolate has. The experts recommend consuming at least 60 percent cacao dark chocolate. The most powerful evidence comes from a just-published prospective study (European Heart Journal, 2010) in which 20,000 people without heart disease were consuming several grams of chocolate a day for a decade. Those who ate the most chocolate – 7.5 grams a day – had lower blood pressure and a significantly lower risk of having a heart attack or stroke than those who ate the least chocolate. However, more is not better when it comes to chocolate because of the calories. One square of dark chocolate a day – about 30 calories worth – may provide the cardiovascular health benefit.
Ondrej J. Lisy, M.D., Ph.D.
The Chattanooga Heart Institute
2501 Citico Avenue
Chattanooga, TN 37404