Daily nibbles of dark chocolate may lower blood pressure

  • Published
  • By Maj. Karen Fauber
  • Edwards Air Force Base Commissary
When it comes to satisfying a taste for chocolate, dark chocolate lovers can celebrate once again.

Eating a small piece of dark chocolate with less than 30 calories seems to lower blood pressure, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In this study, volunteers ate about one-fourth of an ounce of dark chocolate daily for about five months. This is equal to about one-and-a-half small pieces of dark chocolate a day. People who ate that amount had lower blood pressure readings than those who ate white chocolate.

Tests conducted during the study suggested that steady exposure to a small amount of dark chocolate contributed to chemical changes that helped dilate blood vessels and regulate blood pressure.

It is important to note that the study volunteers weren't followed long enough to measure if they may have a reduced risk of heart disease.

This research adds to the increasing evidence linking dark chocolate with health benefits and is the first to suggest that just a tiny amount may be helpful.

Why dark chocolate? Dark chocolate contains flavonoids, which are plant-based compounds also found in red wine, berries and tea. 

Dark chocolate has almost four times as many flavonoids as milk chocolate, and white chocolate has none. Flavonoids are known for their heart-healthy benefits. The antioxidants in dark chocolate help your heart by keeping your blood vessels relaxed and protecting against free radicals that contribute to heart disease.

When you're choosing dark chocolate, look for chocolate that has at least 70 percent cocoa content. Very dark chocolate may be somewhat bitter so you may have to try different ones to find one you like. Also look at the type of fat used to make the dark chocolate and choose one that is made with cocoa butter. It has a neutral effect on cholesterol levels in your body.

Although a little dark chocolate may help control blood pressure, it should not be used as a substitute for diet, weight loss and medications to control blood pressure.

Portion control is the key to getting the health benefit of dark chocolate without getting too many calories. Chocolate is high in fat and calories. A 3.5-ounce dark chocolate bar has about 500 calories, whereas, a medium apple has about 60 calories.

For more information on chocolate or any nutrition topic, post your questions for a quick response at the Defense Commissary Agency dietitian forum on www.commissaries.com.