We’ve been hearing about the benefits of chocolate for some years, but the evidence just keeps mounting. Researchers from Harvard Medical School recently analyzed 21 controlled studies that followed a total of 2,575 people and presented their findings at a conference of the American Heart Association. The Harvard review confirmed earlier conclusions that cocoa flavonoids are the ingredient in chocolate that boosts well-being. Although many fruits and vegetables contain flavonoids, the form in cocoa is particularly beneficial for the heart.
According to the Harvard analysis, short-term benefits experienced by people who regularly consumed flavonoid-rich cocoa included:
- A decrease in blood pressure by up to 2 points, a significant health benefit.
- A 1.5 percent increase in flow-mediated dilation, an indicator of a healthy blood vessel’s ability to relax. As a comparison, other research has found a similar improvement from a dramatic reduction
of dietary salt.
- An increase in “good” HDL cholesterol. In addition to heart benefits, higher HDL levels have been identified as a common denominator among people who live exceptionally long lives.
- A decrease in “bad” LDL cholesterol levels among those under age 50.
- A decreased risk for diabetes, a contributor to heart disease.
- Less insulin resistance, a precursor for both diabetes and heart disease.
The longer-term benefits of cocoa may be greater. In a 15-year study of 470 elderly Dutch men, risk of death from heart disease or other causes dropped by half and blood pressure was more than 3 points lower among those who consumed the most cocoa. A blood-pressure decrease of 3 points is estimated to reduce death from strokes by 8 percent, death from heart disease by 5 percent, and death from any cause by 4 percent. In the study, the top cocoa consumers ate about 4.2 grams of cocoa daily, the amount found in approximately 10 grams of dark chocolate (about one-third of an ounce). Overall, chocolate accounted for about two-thirds of this amount and the rest came from cocoa drinks, puddings, other foods, and supplements.