Cocoa can decrease blood pressure, reduce cholesterol, and reduce the risk factors leading to diabetes, according to researchers at Harvard Medical School.Â They looked at over 20 studies with several thousands participants to determine that cocoa has significant health benefits.
Eric L. Ding, PhD, of Harvard Medical School says the apparent health benefits come from polyphenolic flavonoids in cocoa that have the potential to prevent heart disease. Flavonoids are antioxidants that are commonly found in fruits, vegetables, tea, wine, and coffee.
The study found that dark chocolate, containing at least 50 to 70 percent cocoa, lowered blood pressure in all participants, but most notably in those with hypertension.Â Cocoa slightly lowered LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and caused a signficant increase in HDLÂ cholesterol (good cholesterol).Â The flavonoids in cocoa also slightly improved the bodies response to insulin, which can lower the risk of diabetes.
Most studies on cocoa and heart health are done with sugar-free, low-fat dark chocolate, while most commercially available chocolate products include fats and sugars, things that enhance the taste of cocoa, but may counteract the good benefits of cocoa.
Since cocoa has been touted as good for heart health, more people have taken to eating dark chocolate.Â According to the AARP :
Obviously, encouraging people to eat dark chocolate for its health benefits is appealing advice, and older Americans have taken it to heart. Men and women age 55 and over now make up the bulk of dark chocolate consumers, according to the latest figures from market research firm Mintel.
According to the authors of the study, the best chocolate for heart health is dark chocolate with the lowest sugar and at least 70% cocoa, eaten in moderation.