Several new studies give us more good excuses to indulge regularly in dark chocolate. This luscious delight is thought to promote relaxed arteries, help lower blood pressure, and discourage atherosclerosis.
Chocolate is made from cocoa beans. It is rich in antioxidants, particularly flavanols, which appears to be the magic substances that improve the cardiovascular system.
A recent study included 44 overweight men, ages 45 to 70. Over two periods of 4 weeks, the men ate dark chocolate each day, half getting a super-charged version with extra flavanols. The results were similar for both groups, each showing improved artery conditions.
The chocolate eaters’ arteries were less stiff and their white blood cells were less sticky. This means that the men had a lowered risk of arteriosclerosis (the hardening and thickening of arteries that leads to heart attacks and strokes).
Prior research linked chocolate intake to reduction in strokes, blood pressure, heart failure, memory decline, and type 2 diabetes. Because of the positive effect on the tiny vessels that are the kidneys’ filters, chocolate seems to assist kidney function, indicates a 2012 study.
A March 2014 study found that bacteria in the stomach eat the chocolate we consume and then produce anti-inflammatory compounds beneficial for the heart. The helpful gut bacteria zero in on the flavanol antioxidants in cocoa.
The researchers found that cocoa products contain flavanol compounds of catechin and epicatechin, as well as fiber, that are poorly digested but that good microbes in our digestive tract love. These cocoa compounds are fermented and metabolized by the bacteria into smaller molecules that are anti-inflammatory, reducing inflammation of cardiovascular tissue, thereby lowering heart and stroke risks.
The National Kidney Foundation’s website discusses benefits of chocolate for kidney patients and offers several recipes. Individuals who develop oxalate kidney stones (chocolate is high in the compound) or are instructed to do so by their doctor or renal dietitian should avoid chocolate.
The rest of us can benefit from chocolate, limiting the amount to 1.5 ounces/day. Consume only dark chocolate, and avoid fatty, sugary milk and white chocolate. Try the Valentine Smoothie (p.95) of the “Smoothies For Kidneys” book. It’s a winner!