There’s a growing body of research that cocoa (either in chocolate or straight) may reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular problems.
In two papers written by researchers at Harvard’s School of Public Health, consuming flavonoid-rich cocoa (FRC) was associated with decreased blood pressure, improved blood vessel health, blood flow, and improved cholesterol levels.
FRC was also linked with a decrease in risk-factors for diabetes, most notably insulin resistance. Reducing insulin resistance helps the body get rid of excess sugar in the bloodstream. Preventing diabetes may also prevent its side effects: kidney problems, blindness, and nerve damage, according to lead researcher, Eric Ding, Ph.D.
Ding also points out that erectile dysfunction is primarily a blood flow problem and that Viagra (and other ED drugs) work in part by increasing blood flow. Whether that means cocoa will improve your sex life remains to be seen.
But wait, there’s more! A huge study done in Sweden found that men who ate about 2.2 ounces of chocolate (which contains cocoa) per week had a 17% lower risk of having a stroke.
Now, before you rush out and start stocking up on Snickers bars, there are a few things you need to be aware of.
- None of this research has been very specific about exactly how much flavonoids—which is apparently what produces the positive results—one needs to consume.
- The amount of flavonoids can very greatly depending on the amount of cocoa. It’s possible, for example, to take cocoa capsules with high-levels of falvonoids. And cocoa content in chocolate ranges from about 30% in milk chocolate (which is in most candy bars) to as much as 90% in some gourmet dark chocolates.
- It’s not completely clear that consuming chocolate or cocoa is what produced the results. In the Swedish study, for example, the people who consumed the most chocolate were also less likely to have high blood pressure or smoke.
Bottom line. Eating chocolate in moderation (as long as you’re not allergic to it) won’t hurt. But if you start sucking down five bars a day you may reduce your stroke risk, but you’ll be doing more harm than good by making yourself overweight or obese. Eating right, exercising, and controlling your cholesterol and blood pressure are even better than cocoa for reducing stroke or cardiovascular risks.