If you’ve been looking for solid evidence that chocolate offers health benefits, try this: an analysis of 42 small clinical trials suggest that a daily dose of chocolate can help lower blood pressure, improve the functioning of blood vessels and even lower levels of insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar. There have been previous studies that hinted at an association between chocolate consumption and reducing such heart risks as high blood pressure, but there is a difference with these results. The 1,297 individuals who participated in the 42 studies included in the analysis were actually assigned to eat chocolate - or not - over a period of weeks or months. Then they were checked for changes in blood pressure, cholesterol levels and other risk factors for heart disease. This kind of research differs from studies that have merely observed that people who eat chocolate have lower risks for heart disease. The analysis, published in the March 1, 2012 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, doesn’t prove that we all should be eating chocolate often to protect our hearts. None of the trials included were big enough or lasted long enough to demonstrate that eating chocolate actually reduces the risk of heart disease or stroke for everyone or that chocolate maintains its protective effect over time.
My take? This study bolsters accumulating evidence of chocolate’s health benefits. I believe that eating an ounce or two of dark chocolate that’s 70 percent cocoa a few times a week is good for you. Chocolate is a source of polyphenols (the same type of antioxidants found in red wine), and the fat it contains, stearic acid, doesn't affect cholesterol levels. In addition to the heart-healthy benefits seen in this study, earlier research has shown that the flavonoids in dark chocolate help reduce the stickiness of platelets, cells that play an important role in blood clotting. As a result, blood takes longer to clot, reducing the danger of coronary artery blockages. Keep in mind that while chocolate that is 70 percent cocoa does not contain much sugar, it is still not calorie-free, so be sure not to overindulge.