By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness
The heart healthy habits I normally recommend involve getting more exercise as well as trading in fatty, sugary foods for fresh fruits and vegetables. But there’s one sweet, decadent food you may have heard about that boasts high levels of the antioxidants that help keep your heart strong.
What is this secret health food? It’s chocolate—specifically dark chocolate.
According to a brand new study, cocoa powder and dark chocolate have strong antioxidant power. They have even more power than most of the so-called super fruits such as pomegranate and blueberries!1
Chocolate is also packed with polyphenols. Polyphenols are substances that reduce those harmful free radicals that damage cells and DNA. They also prevent fat-like substances in the blood stream from clogging the arteries. Plus, the polyphenols in chocolate appear to pump up good cholesterol levels.2
But chocolate’s benefits aren’t just limited to its antioxidant power. It also acts like a natural ACE inhibitor.
Researchers have found that eating dark chocolate inhibits an enzyme called ACE. ACE constricts blood vessels and raises blood pressure. High levels of ACE activity have also been linked to hardening of the arteries.
In a study of 16 volunteers, researchers discovered that the activity of ACE was reduced by about 18% for 3 hours after eating the chocolate. That’s about the same amount heart patients experience when they take a prescription ACE inhibitor to lower their blood pressure.3
The protective substances in chocolate also appear to keep blood platelets from clumping together in blood vessels. They also prevent swelling in the vessel walls. This helps prevent the clogged arteries that can lead to blood clots and heart attack.
Semisweet and dark chocolate offer the highest amount of cocoa solids. They also offer the lowest percentage of sugar and fat.
For the most benefit and the best taste, look for chocolate that contains 70% cocoa.
But before you go on a chocolate binge, please note that you can get all of these heart-healthy benefits with just small amounts of the sweet treat.
That translates to about two tablespoons—or a few squares—of dark chocolate daily.
The finest dark chocolates are so flavorful even a nibble can satisfy. More than that can pack on the pounds. You see, chocolate isn’t exactly low in calories. But if you eat a balanced diet and exercise, getting your chocolate fix can be good medicine.
- Crozier SJ. Cacao seeds are a “Super Fruit”: A comparative analysis of various fruit powders and products. Chemistry Central. Published online: doi:10.1186/1752-153X-5-5.
- Mellor DD. High-cocoa polyphenol-rich chocolate improves HDL cholesterol in Type 2 diabetes patients. Diabetic Medicine. 2010;27:1318-1321.
- Persson I. Effects of Cocoa Extract and Dark Chocolate on Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme and Nitric Oxide in Human Endothelial Cells and Healthy Volunteers. Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology. 2010 Oct 14. [Epub ahead of print]