If you’re a chocaholic, and you have high blood pressure, you may have a justifiable reason to indulge in a dark chocolate fantasy.
Of course there are a few stipulations, but studies show that in moderation, consuming dark chocolate may help lower your blood pressure levels.
A group of scientists in Australia review the results of several scientific studies which tested this chocolate theory among roughly 850 participants.
The test findings indicated that of those who consumed dark chocolate as part of this study, a 2 millimeter reduction in blood pressure readings was received, compared to participants who did not eat chocolate.
The researchers concluded that this decrease, while modest, proves that consuming dark chocolate can have a positive effect in lowering blood pressure.
SO WHY DOES IT WORK?
Dark chocolate, as well as fruits, vegetables and tea, contain polyphenols, to which scientists give credit for its capabilities in cardiovascular protection. Flavonoids, as part of the polyphenol group, offer antioxidant effects greater than those of vitamins C and E, in comparison.
Cocoa, classified as a plant polyphenol, can work as vasodilator by smoothing and widening the blood vessels which allows blood to flow more freely, thereby decreasing blood pressure.
In addition to fruits and veggies, dark chocolate contains the highest concentration of polyphenols.
But, before you run out to purchase chocolate bars in bulk, there are a couple of things to consider.
Firstly, chocolate is high in calories and sugar, so it’s important to note that moderation is key, particularly if you are trying to lose weight.
Secondly, the type of chocolate that you eat will determine whether or not you achieve their blood-pressure reducing benefits. According to a Harvard study, indulging in just a small square of dark chocolate goodness each day can help lower blood pressure, particularly for those diagnosed with hypertension.
In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers studied the effects of dark chocolate in comparison to white chocolate as it relates to insulin sensitivity and lowering blood pressure.
Based on the results of the study, they concluded that dark chocolate was significantly more effective in improving both insulin sensitivity and lowering blood pressure compared to white chocolate, (which did not contain polyphenols).
For the most blood-pressure-lowering benefits, experts suggest opting for a product that is highest in cocoa content. A content of at least 70% is recommended, though the higher the percentage, the less sweet the taste. But while bittersweet, just a little bit of dark chocolate is all you need to take advantage of its health benefits.
Whether for drinking, baking, or as a treat, the best cocoa source to consider for improving your blood pressure is natural (non-processed) unsweetened cocoa powder, which is much more diet-friendly than it’s solid chocolate counterparts. The next best option is unsweetened baking chocolate.
EXPERT TIPS FOR CHOOSING THE BEST CHOCOLATE
Check the label. Some form of cocoa should be listed as the first ingredient, otherwise what you’d be getting is a lesser quality of chocolate that is high in sugar. You can find almost any variety, from the fancier, higher priced brands to those that are more reasonably priced, at most all local grocery and health food stores.
Check the packaging. Foil-wrapped is best when looking for fresh chocolate because it shields the chocolate from moisture and light, which can compromise the quality of its ingredients.
Check the color. Good quality chocolate should be consistent in color, and have a soft sheen on the surface. Avoid any that appears to be discolored.
Check the sound. If it doesn’t snap without crumbling when broken, you’re not getting pure dark chocolate. If chocolate bends, rather than breaking, it likely contains white or milk chocolate, because their ingredients include more milk and sugar.
So if you’re looking for a natural remedy (or a good excuse to have a little chocolate), consider having ~1/2 oz. of dark chocolate daily to see positive results in lowering your blood pressure readings.
However, if you’re trying to watch your weight, be sure to keep an eye on those calories and carbs.
Dr. Donald R. Buhler and Dr. Cristobal Miranda. “Antioxidant Activities of Flavonoids”. The Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University. November 2000. August 14, 2013. http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/f-w00/flavonoid.html
Janet Bond Brill, Ph.D. (2013, August 12). “Fiftysomething Diet: 5 Foods That Will Bring Your Blood Pressure Down. [weblog post]. Retrieved from: http://www.nextavenue.org/health-and-well-being.