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Is chocolate good for the heart?

A study published in the European Heart Journal in March 2010 had some good news for chocolate lovers: daily consumption of a small amount of chocolate might lower blood pressure and the risk of cardiovascular disease. Participants in the study who ate as little as 6 grams of chocolate had lower incidences of stroke and heart attack—with the greatest benefits for preventing stroke. A portion of the benefits for cardiovascular health were as a result of chocolate’s lowering effects on blood pressure.

Scientists are not sure why chocolate seems to lower blood pressure, but they theorize it is because of the presence of flavonols (which are higher in dark chocolate than milk chocolate). Flavonols are naturally occurring compounds in foods. More research is needed to see if chocolate truly does benefit cardiovascular health, but in the meantime, indulging in chocolate might be less of a guilty pleasure. And as with everything, there can be too much of a good thing. High chocolate consumption can lead to weight gain and obesity, which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
 
Randolph P. Martin, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Dark chocolate is filled with very, very powerful antioxidants making it good for your heart. Watch this video to learn more from Dr. Randy P. Martin about dark chocolate being good for the heart.
 

Good news, chocolate fans!

Dark chocolate contains epicatechin, a particularly active member of a group of compounds called plant flavonoids. Flavonoids have been proven to keep cholesterol from gathering in blood vessels, reduce the risk of blood clots and slow down the immune responses that lead to clogged arteries. They are also the same compounds found in red wine that give it antioxidant properties. 

Believe it or not, chocolate is derived from a plant -- the Theobroma cacao plant. And it has more flavonoids than green tea, black tea, red wines and blueberries. So eating a colorful assortment of fruits and vegetables can now include dark chocolate! Yay!! While a little dark chocolate is good, a lot is not necessarily better. Don't forget that chocolate still is loaded with calories. 

Chocolate can, in fact, be used to bolster cardiovascular health. A recent article published in Harvard Women’s Health Watch indicated that consumption of chocolate has been linked to better cholesterol levels, more optimal blood pressure, improvements in blood clotting, improved coronary artery function, and better insulin sensitivity. Researchers believe that the cocoa bean—which is rich in flavonoids, naturally occurring antioxidants—is the reason why individuals may benefit from chocolate.

Since chocolate is made from the cocoa beans of the Theobroma cacao fruit tree, it is rich in flavonoids, more specifically, flavanols, which are phytochemicals and antioxidants that can be heart healthy.

Antioxidants counteract oxidation, a harmful chemical reaction that takes place in your body. For example, antioxidants can help to protect the “bad” LDL cholesterol from becoming oxidized and contribute to the hardening of the arteries and heart disease. In addition to being an antioxidant, flavanols have other heart healthy properties. Studies have shown that flavanols may help reduce high blood pressure and the clumping of platelets into an unhealthy blood clot, both of which can increase the risk of heart disease. Even though milk chocolate, black tea, blueberries, strawberries, cherries, grapes, apples, and strawberries also contain flavanols, dark chocolate, by far, contains a higher concentration of this phytochemical. 

Before you start passing out the chocolate bars in celebration, the million dollar question is exactly how much dark chocolate should you eat as sweet treat to fight heart disease? According to Norman Hollenberg, a physician and researcher who has studied flavanols for over 20 years at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the exact amount of dark chocolate that can be enjoyed to reap heart healthy benefits isn’t currently known. However, based on his research, Hollenberg feels that one to two ounces weekly (the equivalent to 6 to 12 Hershey Dark Chocolate Kisses) could be beneficial.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.