Sweet remedy: Flavanols found in chocolate may contribute to cardiovascular health

Eating dark chocolate and other cocoa products protects your heart – but only if you’re eating the right kind and amount. Most of the heart-healthy benefits of cocoa come from its flavonoids. Cocoa products must at least have around 100 milligrams (mg) of epicatechin and 900 mg of cocoa flavanols to be beneficial to cardiovascular health.

In the review, researchers from Germany and Switzerland looked at the effect of cocoa flavanols on cardiovascular health, with emphasis on the amounts consumed. In addition, they analyzed a variety of cocoa products for the content of these compounds. Overall, they looked at 13 systematic reviews from 2010 on the clinical effects of chocolate consumption. They also analyzed 32 cocoa product samples.

Based on the evidence provided by these systematic reviews, dark chocolate consumption did not lower blood pressure. However, there was strong evidence on the association between consuming cocoa and increased flow-mediated vasodilation (FMD). Improved FMD causes increased blood flow, which also decreases blood pressure. In addition, these systematic reviews reported that cocoa consumption was associated with an improvement of blood glucose and lipid metabolism. (Related: Cocoa consumption shown to reduce blood pressure.)

According to the analysis of the researchers of the current research, cocoa products that contain about 100 mg epicatechin can increase FMD. Moreover, cocoa flavanol doses of about 900 mg or more may lower blood pressure in certain individuals and/or if consumed for a long time. Additionally, they also found that to get 900 mg flavanols, around 100 to 500 g of chocolate are needed to be consumed. For 100 mg epicatechin, 50-200 g of chocolate are needed to be consumed.

With these findings, the researchers advise that chocolate products marketed for their purported health benefits should, therefore, declare the amounts of total flavanols and epicatechin.

Eat chocolate in moderation

Dark chocolate and cocoa consumption are associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality. However, consumers should be mindful of how much they’re eating. A study published in the European Heart Journal assessed the risk of heart failure with chocolate consumption and found that high consumption of chocolate was associated with the risk of heart failure.

While it is true that dark chocolate is a great dietary source of flavonoids, which contribute to the reduction of inflammation and the increase of good cholesterol, it is also a source of saturated fats. In the study, researchers found that people who eat at least one chocolate every day had a 17 percent higher risk of heart failure compared to those who do not eat chocolate.

Interestingly, moderate consumption of chocolate did not increase heart failure risk, but actually reduced the risk by 23 percent. Therefore, researchers suggest dark chocolate should be consumed in moderate amounts only. And by moderate, they meant one to three servings a month.

For the study, researchers reviewed the findings of five prospective studies on the associations among chocolate consumption and the risk of heart failure. These studies had more than 500,000 participants and over 24,000 heart failure events in total.

These findings were presented by a team of researchers from the U.S. and Thailand at the European Society of Cardiology Congress 2018 in Munich, Germany.

Buying the right kind of chocolate

Most chocolates sold in the market are highly processed and contain high amounts of sugar and additives, which means that you wouldn’t be enjoying the benefits that cocoa flavanols provide because these harmful components already canceled them out. Therefore, it is important to buy high-quality chocolate. High-quality dark chocolate has the following characteristics:

  • High cocoa content (70 percent or higher).
  • No unnecessary ingredients, such as trans fat, milk, artificial flavorings, and high sugar content.
  • No alkali processing.
  • Organic.

Read more news stories and studies on keeping the heart healthy with chocolate by going to Chocolate.news.

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