By Michael A. Smith, MDWho would have thought that a dark chocolate bar could lower blood pressure? Well, it can.
Now don’t just run off and scarf down any old chocolate candy bar. There are rules to follow for eating them, and we’ll get to that in a moment.
First, let’s take a look at the study.
Cocoa Antioxidants Lower Blood PressureLike all plants, cocoa contains antioxidants widely known as polyphenols. In particular, cocoa is rich in epicatechin, a polyphenol belonging to a class of antioxidants called flavonoids. These powerful compounds can support your heart by reducing risk factors, including high blood pressure.
Researchers from the University of Bonn in Germany showed that a daily intake of 25 mg of epicatechin could lower systolic blood pressure by 4.1 points and diastolic pressure by 2.0 points.1 By the way, we know that these changes probably seem trivial, but any reduction in blood pressure is a good thing.
Mull this one over in your brain: A retrospective, population-based analysis of 26 million people revealed a 200–400% higher mortality rate in hypertensive people between the ages of 20–49 when compared to a healthy population.2 Can you see our point? Even seemingly trivial reductions in blood pressure can have a major impact on health and longevity.
Additionally, the researchers claim that a reduction of systolic pressure by just 2 points can reduce the risk of death after a stroke by 10% and reduce the risk of death from ischemic heart disease by 7%. In the end, small drops in blood pressure actually produce big drops in risk.
So, here are the details of the cocoa study:
- The German researchers analyzed the effects of cocoa, specifically epicatechin, on blood pressure by looking at several randomized clinical studies. It was kind of like a “mega” review.
- They found that the potential blood pressure-lowering effects of cocoa antioxidants were linked to the dose consumed. The more you eat the greater the drop in pressure.
- They discovered that at least 25 mg of epicatechin is needed to produce a reduction in blood pressure.
- The scientists involved with the study believe that cocoa polyphenols increase the production of nitric oxide, which dilates blood vessels and drops pressure.
Healthy Dark Chocolate Candy BarsLet’s start off with a disclaimer: All candy bars, including ones made with dark chocolate, have a lot of sugar and fat. So enjoy them, but only occasionally. Now, let’s look at the kind of chocolate bar you’ll want to eat.
Dark chocolate, also called plain chocolate or black chocolate, is produced by adding fat and sugar to cocoa liquor (liquefied pure chocolate). The U.S. has no official definition for dark chocolate but European rules specify a minimum of 35% cocoa solids. However, you’ll want to eat dark chocolate that’s at least 70% cocoa solids. Because the higher the percentage of cocoa solids, the more antioxidants, specifically epicatechin, it provides.
Some of our favorite brands with at least 70% cocoa are listed below. But always double-check the label, as manufactures can change their cocoa bean sources and percentage of cocoa solids:
- Cocoa Puro
- Endangered Species Rainforest
- Olive & Sinclair
Give it a try and let us know what you think!
- American Journal of Clin Nutr. Published ahead of print doi:10.3945/ajcn.111.029330
- Robitaille C, Dai S, Waters C, et al. Diagnosed hypertension in Canada: incidence, prevalence and associated mortality. CMAJ. 2011 Nov 21.
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