Chocolate: The Newest Heart-Healthy Food

December 10th, 2010 | Sources: Cardiovascular Pharmacology, European Heart Journal


It’s beginning to look like chocolate, especially dark chocolate, really and truly is a heart healthy snack, though only if it’s consumed in small quantities.

A delectable taste of this news came last spring, in the form of a study by German scientists which appeared in the European Heart Journal. It was a retrospective study of nearly 20,000 people, and it showed that folks in the highest quartile for chocolate consumption (meaning they consumed 7.5 grams of chocolate per day—the equivalent of 2 to 3 small squares of a Hershey bar), had lower blood pressure, a 27% lower risk of heart attack, and a 48% lower risk of stroke than those in the lowest quartile (about 1.7 grams per day).

Now, a study in Cardiovascular Pharmacology has lent credence to those findings by suggesting a mechanism through which chocolate reduces blood pressure.

In the new study, Ingrid Persson and colleagues at Linkoping University showed that dark chocolate inhibits the activity of the angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE). This enzyme helps regulate fluids and salt metabolism in the body. It is the target of many well-known antihypertensive drugs including captopril, lisinopril and enalopril.

To reach these conclusions, Persson’s team somehow managed to recruit 16 volunteers who were between the ages of 20 and 45, and convinced them to eat 75 grams (about 2 1/2 ounces) of dark chocolate which had a cocoa content of 72%. The team measured ACE activity in the subjects’ blood before they consumed the treat, and again 30 minutes, 1 hour, and 3 hours later.

The scientists found that 3 hours after the intreprid volunteers consumed the chocolate, ACE activity was 18% lower than the baseline established before they had the treat. That’s about the same level of ACE inhibition generated by those prescription drugs!

“I was surprised by the great effect,” Persson told MyHealthNewsDaily.

One caveat here as we approach the holidays and the overwhelming urge to overeat that they generate in most of us. The benefits of chocolate are achieved after consuming small amounts of chocolate—we’re talking about 100 calories-worth. No further benefits accrue to those who gobble down more than that, and of course those calories add up quickly. In no way do these studies suggest that consuming large quantities of chocolate is healthy, and certainly chocolate should not be substituted for other healthy foods like fruits, veggies and whole grains. Efforts to maintain a healthy body weight are still of paramount importance. And exercise is, too.

Still, with chocolate, it’s looking more and more like a little bit, consumed on a regular basis, can go a long way toward improving heart health. Make mine Lindt!


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