Nutrition Myths
Is dark chocolate heart healthy?

SUMMARY

  • Eating 30g of chocolate twice per week is optimal in reduction of coronary heart disease risk. 
  • Eating 50g of dark chocolate per day may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by 10.5%.
  • Polyphenols in dark chocolate inhibit inflammation.
  • Eating dark chocolate lowers blood pressure.
  • Flavonols in cocoa reduce plaque formation.
  • Eating dark chocolate lowers cholesterol levels.
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Is dark chocolate heart-healthy? What is the evidence?

Dark chocolate is associated many health benefits, particularly with significantly lower cardiovascular disease risk and stroke, all-cause mortality factors and cardiovascular related mortality. (1, 2, 3, 4)  

Studies show that consuming 50g of dark chocolate per day may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by 10.5%, by reducing some of its main risk factors, such as hypertension, hyperlipidemia, chronic inflammation and insulin resistance. (5)

The most recent meta analysis of prospective studies showed that consuming chocolate in moderation may be optimal for preventing coronary heart disease (CHD). Specifically, the biggest drop in the risk of CHD was associated with two 2 servings of 30g per week. Eating 3 or more servings of chocolate per week resulted in only a little additional reduction in risk of heart disease. (6)

See how to choose the best dark chocolate.

Effects of chocolate consumption on the cardiovascular disease risk factors:

Polyphenols in dark chocolate inhibit inflammation

Polyphenols present in cocoa are known to inhibit inflammatory processes that contribute to heart disease.(7, 8, 9)

Their anti-inflammatory properties are due to the:

  1. Inhibition of the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) that cause endothelial dysfunction
  2. Increase of the antioxidant activity, when combined with vitamin C and selenium
  3. Prevention of pro-inflammatory substances that cause tissue damage by sticking to the endothelium, resulting in atherosclerosis
  4. Decreased production of pro-inflammatory and vasoconstrictive leukotrienes. Some of the most important anti-inflammatory polyphenols are epicatechin and procyanidin

Eating dark chocolate reduces blood pressure

Nitric oxide is a chemical compound with powerful vasodilating and anti-inflammatory properties.

It has been shown that high flavonols in cocoa, increase vasodilation and the relaxation of the arteries, by increasing and enhancing the nitric oxide bioactivity in the blood.

Vasodilation results in lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure. (10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15)

One hundred grams of dark chocolate consumed daily reduces systolic blood pressure by 5.1 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure by 1.8 mm Hg. (16)

These reductions in blood pressure correspond to a reduction in cardiovascular disease events by 21% (14% to 27%) (17, 3, 18)

Click here to see how else you can reduce blood pressure.

Flavonols in cocoa reduce plaque formation

If the endothelium is damaged through some form of stress, platelets stick to the damaged area and take part in the inflammatory responses and plaque formation.

Cocoa acts like an aspirin. It inhibits the platelet activation, aggregation and adhesion and modulates the primary hemostasis. (19, 20)

Flavonols, which are contained in concentrated amounts in cocoa, significantly reduce the platelet activity, and, therefore, the risk of plaque formation.

Stearic acid and certain minerals which are present in cocoa, such as potassium, magnesium and calcium, may also play a role in modulating platelet formation. (21)

Eating dark chocolate reduces cholesterol levels

Eating dark chocolate significantly reduces LDL cholesterol levels (LDL-c) in people with mildly elevated levels and increases the level of (good) HDL cholesterol (HDL-c) in people with normal or mildly elevated levels. (22, 23, 24)

Furthermore, the oxidation of LDLs leads to atherosclerosis and increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.(25, 26)

Although there are conflicting studies, most evidence shows that the consumption of dark chocolate protects lipids from oxidation.

For more details on the effects of eating chocolate on heart health, see “Human Trials Investigating Cardiovascular Effects of Cocoa or chocolate.”

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