by Craig Weatherby
Population studies suggest that that diets rich in fruits and vegetables reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke, with foods and beverages high in polyphenol antioxidants seeming to top the list.
Raw, non-Dutched cocoa—that is, the small minority of cocoa not treated with alkali—has more polyphenol antioxidants than any other common food, beating even tea and berries by a mile.
(Our Organic, Fair Trade Extra Dark Chocolate bars contain 80 percent raw cocoa.)
By now, we have ample evidence that cocoa and dark chocolate are good for cardiovascular health.
And a recent evidence review affirmed the idea that raw cocoa has beneficial impacts on blood pressure, insulin resistance, and vascular and blood platelet functions (Corti R et al. 2009).
Researchers propose a range of potential mechanisms by which cocoa might bring its apparent cardiovascular benefits.
These include the ability to stimulate production of nitric oxide—a body chemical that dilates and relaxes arteries—and to exert direct antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects in the arteries (Ghosh D et al. 2009; Selmi C et al. 2008).
So while it is welcome news, it seems unsurprising that a recent study linked higher chocolate intake among heart attack survivors to a reduced risk of dying from heart disease (Janszky I et al. 2009).
First study in heart attack survivors seems encouraging for chocolate lovers
A Swedish-American team of researchers followed 1,169 non-diabetic people who'd been hospitalized after their first heart attack.
Theirs was the first-ever study to measure the possible impacts of chocolate consumption on men and women who'd had a heart attack.
After completing a questionnaire to assess their chocolate consumption over the course of 12 months, the participants were then followed for eight years.
According to the team's analysis, consuming chocolate twice or more per week was associated with a 66 percent reduction in cardiac mortality.
Consuming chocolate up to once per week was associated with a 44 percent reduction in risk, while eating it less than once per month was linked to a 27 percent reduction in cardiac mortality.
While chocolate consumption was associated with smaller reductions in the risk of dying from all causes and of sufffering adverse, non-fatal cardiac events, these associations were substantially weaker.
Dark is best, but milk chocolate still brought apparent benefits
Remarkably, the observed associations between higher chocolate intake and lower risk of heart death did not depend on eating dark chocolate, which by definition contains 60 percent cocoa solids or more.
Chocolate made with raw, non-Dutched cocoa contains much higher levels of the polyphenol antioxidants that human and animal tests pinpoint as the bringers of cocoa's artery benefits.
(It's no coincidence that our Organic, Fair Trade Extra Dark Chocolate bars contain 80 percent raw cocoa… we try to make each of our products, no matter how luxuriant, as healthful as possible.)
But the questionnaires used did not ask people to differentiate between the different types of chocolate they ate.
And according to the researchers, “In the European Union, milk chocolate has to contain a minimum of 25 percent of cocoa solids, dark chocolate 35 percent. The corresponding proportions in United States are 10 per cent and 15 percent.” (Janszky I et al. 2009).
According to the main producer of chocolate for Sweden in the 1990s, about 90 percent of the consumption was milk chocolate, and Swedish milk chocolate averages only about 30 percent cocoa solids.
So while research indicates that dark bars are substantially better, even milk chocolate may help your heart.
- Corti R, Flammer AJ, Hollenberg NK, Lüscher TF. Cocoa and cardiovascular health. Circulation. 2009 Mar 17;119(10):1433-41. Review.
- Ghosh D, Scheepens A. Vascular action of polyphenols. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2009 Mar;53(3):322-31. Review.
- Janszky I, Mukamal KJ, Ljung R, Ahnve S, Ahlbom A, Hallqvist J. Chocolate consumption and mortality following a first acute myocardial infarction: the Stockholm Heart Epidemiology Program. J Intern Med. 2009 Sep;266(3):248-57.
- Selmi C, Cocchi CA, Lanfredini M, Keen CL, Gershwin ME. Chocolate at heart: the anti-inflammatory impact of cocoa flavanols. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2008 Nov;52(11):1340-8. Review.