In collabaration with the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, Mary Engler of the University of San Francisco conducted a study evaluating the effects of dark chocolate on the cardiovascular system. Dark chocolate, rich in flavonoids, has received recent media attention because of the newfound health benefits of other high-flavonoid foods such as blueberries, green tea, almonds and oat bran.
Flavonoids, naturally occurring compounds part of a larger group of chemicals called polyphenols, are found in plant-based products and most notably act as antioxidants. In plants these compounds allow the plant to heal from injury and they help repair damaged cells. In humans these antioxidants help reduce damage to cells caused by harmful free radicals that, which are produced when cell’s convert oxygen in the process of making energy. Flavonoids are now additionally linked to decreased risk of cardiovascular disease.
The results of the study, published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, required participants to consume 1.6 ounces of high-flavonoid or low-flavonoid dark chocolate for two weeks. (Not a difficult requirement!) After ultrasound measurements were taken, researchers concluded that there was a significant 10% increase in artery expansion due to blood flow in the group of participants consuming flavonoid-rich chocolate.
Don’t get too excited just yet. While dark chocolate does have potential health benefits as increased blood flow and artery expansion can decrease the risk of heart disease, it is still high in calories and saturated fat which are both additionally correlated with their own slew of cardiovascular risks. Akin to the red wine recommendations, consume dark chocolate in moderation.
And to all you Snickers fans out there- milk chocolate just won’t cut it. Because of its higher milk content it is much lower in flavonol molecules. But then again, we always new dark chocolate was better.