A Dark Chocolate a Day Keeps Hypertension Away
As if you needed another excuse to eat chocolate, researchers have reported that a small daily intake of dark chocolate is good for your health. As the people cheer, chocolate companies adjust their fourth quarter forecasts.
It’s already known among connoisseurs that eating chocolate seems to release the same set of pleasurable endorphins liberated during orgasm. Adding to that highly fortunate side effect, researchers at Tufts University have now said that dark chocolate may lower blood pressure by an average of ten percent and improve the body’s sensitivity to insulin.
These benefits, though, only apply to dark chocolate, which is rich in antioxidant flavonoids. The same antioxidants are found in fruit and red wine. Milk chocolate and white chocolate, which are flavonoid free, do not yield the same beneficial qualities.
“Previous studies suggest flavonoid-rich foods, including fruits, vegetables, tea, red wine and chocolate, might offer cardiovascular benefits, but this is one of the first clinical trials to look specifically at dark chocolate’s effect on lowering blood pressure among people with hypertension,” said Jeffrey Blumberg, who led the study published in July 18 online edition of Hypertension.
The study found that three ounces of dark chocolate per day for several weeks reduced blood pressure in patients with “essential hypertension” while also having a positive effect on insulin sensitivity.
Blumberg cautioned that the results did not give license to add more high-calorie, high sugar, high fat chocolate to their diets.
“This study is not about eating more chocolate,” he said. “It suggests that cocoa flavonoids appear to have benefits on vascular function and glucose sensitivity.”
It was suggested that dark chocolate could be added to an overall healthful diet without upping caloric intake.
In the study, Blumberg’s team gave 3.5 ounces of dark chocolate or white chocolate every day to 10 men and 10 women for 15 days. All subjects had high blood pressure and were not on blood pressure medication.
Five men and five women were given dark chocolate while the other half were given white chocolate. After 15 days, the patients had no chocolate for a week. Then each half switched to the other chocolate for the remaining time.
“White chocolate, which has no flavonoids, was the perfect control food because it contains all the other ingredients and calories found in dark chocolate,” Blumberg said.
During the time patients ate dark chocolate, their systolic blood pressure (top number) decreased by an average of 11.9 mm Hg. The diastolic (the bottom number) dropped by an average of 8.5 mm Hg. White chocolate showed no ability to lower blood pressure.
“This is not only a statistically significant effect, but it’s also a clinically meaningful decline,” Blumberg said. “This is the kind of reduction in blood pressure often found with other healthful dietary interventions.”
Dark chocolate also seemed to improve how the body processed insulin and to reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or so-called “bad cholesterol” by an average of 10 percent.
“It’s important to note that the dark chocolate we used had a high level of flavonoids, giving it a slightly bittersweet taste. Most Americans eat milk chocolate, which has a low amount of these compounds.”
But Blumberg cautioned against going hog wild with the new chocolate justification.
“It’s still a high-calorie food. You don’t want to have excess calories or put on weight if you have hypertension,” he said. “But as part of a healthful diet, it is something that you can enjoy and not feel you are violating the principles of a healthful diet.”