Dark Chocolate Has Health Benefits Not Seen in Other Varieties
Aug. 27, 2003 -- Got high blood pressure? Try a truffle. Worried about heart disease? Buy a bon-bon. It's the best medical news in ages. Studies in two prestigious scientific journals say dark chocolate -- but not white chocolate or milk chocolate -- is good for you.
Dark Chocolate Lowers Blood Pressure
Dark chocolate -- not white chocolate -- lowers high blood pressure, say Dirk Taubert, MD, PhD, and colleagues at the University of Cologne, Germany. Their report appears in the Aug. 27 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.
But that's no license to go on a chocolate binge. Eating more dark chocolate can help lower blood pressure -- if you've reached a certain age and have mild high blood pressure, say the researchers. But you have to balance the extra calories by eating less of other things.
Antioxidants in Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate -- but not milk chocolate or dark chocolate eaten with milk -- is a potent antioxidant, report Mauro Serafini, PhD, of Italy's National Institute for Food and Nutrition Research in Rome, and colleagues. Their report appears in the Aug. 28 issue of Nature. Antioxidants gobble up free radicals, destructive molecules that are implicated in heart disease and other ailments.
"Our findings indicate that milk may interfere with the absorption of antioxidants from chocolate ... and may therefore negate the potential health benefits that can be derived from eating moderate amounts of dark chocolate."
Translation: Say "Dark, please," when ordering at the chocolate counter. Don't even think of washing it down with milk. And if health is your excuse for eating chocolate, remember the word "moderate" as you nibble.
Taubert's team signed up six men and seven women aged 55-64. All had just been diagnosed with mild high blood pressure -- on average, systolic blood pressure (the top number) of 153 and diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) of 84.
Every day for two weeks, they ate a 100-gram candy bar and were asked to balance its 480 calories by not eating other foods similar in nutrients and calories. Half the patients got dark chocolate and half got white chocolate.
Those who ate dark chocolate had a significant drop in blood pressure (by an average of 5 points for systolic and an average of 2 points for diastolic blood pressure). Those who ate white chocolate did not.
In the second study, Serafini's team signed up seven healthy women and five healthy men aged 25-35. On different days they each ate 100 grams of dark chocolate by itself, 100 grams of dark chocolate with a small glass of whole milk, or 200 grams of milk chocolate.
An hour later, those who ate dark chocolate alone had the most total antioxidants in their blood. And they had higher levels of epicatechin, a particularly healthy compound found in chocolate. The milk chocolate eaters had the lowest epicatechin levels of all.
Chocolate for Blood Pressure: Darker Is Better
What is it about dark chocolate? The answer is plant phenols -- cocoa phenols, to be exact. These compounds are known to lower blood pressure.
Chocolates made in Europe are generally richer in cocoa phenols than those made in the U.S. So if you're going to try this at home, remember: Darker is better.
Just remember to balance the calories. A 100-gram serving of Hershey's Special Dark Chocolate Bar has 531 calories, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If you ate that much raw apple you'd only take in 52 calories. But then, you'd miss out on the delicious blood pressure benefit.
A hint: Don't replace healthy foods with chocolate. Most people's diets have plenty of sweets. Switch those for some chocolate if you're going to try the truffle treatment.
SOURCES: Taubert, D. The Journal of the American Medical Association, Aug. 27, 2003; vol 290: pp 1029-1030. Serafini, M. Nature, Aug. 28, 2003; vol 424: p 1013. U.S. Department of Agriculture Nutrient Data Laboratory.