Chocolate and Blood Pressure

Eating the right kind of chocolate may lower blood pressure.

Most people don’t need much convincing to eat chocolate, but now there may be good reason to indulge—the results of one of the largest studies ever conducted on the health benefits of chocolate indicated that chocolate could help lower blood pressure.

Of course, not all chocolate is created equal. In order to reap the benefits, it’s important to choose the right kind of chocolate—the kind that contains significant amounts of flavanols, which are powerful antioxidant molecules that come from the cocoa plant.

Blood Pressure and Flavanols

Blood pressure is the force your blood applies to the walls of your arteries as it circulates throughout your body. High blood pressure (also called hypertension) occurs when this force is raised above normal levels. High blood pressure increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, heart failure, kidney disease, and other health problems.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about one in three (or about 31 percent) of adults in the United States has high blood pressure.

Flavanols have been shown to increase the formation of endothelial nitric oxide, which promotes vasodilation, thereby reducing blood pressure. In other words, cocoa-rich foods may be valuable for reducing blood pressure.

Is Chocolate Healthy?

Researchers performed a meta-analysis of 20 studies involving 856 healthy participants. They found that flavanol-rich cocoa products had a small, but statistically significant effect in lowering blood pressure over the short term.

The good news—chocolate does have some health benefits, including reducing blood pressure. In fact, some research has shown that dark chocolate may reduce the risk of heart disease. The caveat—not all chocolate is rich in flavanols. The label “dark chocolate” does not necessarily translate to high flavanol content.

So, is chocolate healthy? Yes, some types of chocolate are healthy, but it’s important to choose wisely. Chocolate that is more refined and processed is less likely to be rich in flavanols and other nutrients. Some, but not all, dark chocolate and cocoa powders contain the original molecules and nutrients from the cocoa plant. Milk chocolate and white chocolate are unlikely to contain high levels of flavanols. Unfortunately, most chocolate products don’t list the amount of flavanols or other polyphenols they contain. For optimal results, choose high-quality dark chocolate or raw chocolate, which is unrefined, unprocessed and loaded with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

 

Reference:

Ried K, Sullivan TR, Fakler P, et al. Effect of cocoa on blood pressure. The Cochrane Library. Published online August 15, 2012. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD008893.pub2