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Older overweight men who consume dark chocolate every day may reduce their risk cardiovascular disease as a result of the effects of dark chocolate to reduce arterial stress and inflammation. These findings are reported in a collaborative study from Dutch and Scottish investigators in this month’s issue of the medical journal of the Federation of the American Society of Experimental Biology.



In the randomized, double-blind study, 44 overweight men between the ages of 45 and 70 were given either 70 grams (the equivalent of a mini-chocolate bar or a chocolate button) of dark chocolate enriched with flavonoids or regular, natural chocolate with normal flavonoid content. Over a 4 week period, the men were periodically evaluated for parameters of the stiffness of their arteries and blood inflammation. Consuming either form of chocolate significantly increased arterial blood flow, reduced arterial stiffness and reduced blood inflammation. Dark chocolate enriched with flavonoids especially reduced arterial inflammatory markers and also tasted better than non-enriched chocolate.

 

Chocolate is made from cocoa. Natural chocolate is high in the antioxidant polyphenols called flavonoids. Flavonoids are naturally occurring plant pigments, known to have a whole host of beneficial health effects. Among their most important beneficial effects are as natural antioxidants and anti-inflammatory substances that retard cholesterol plaque growth inside blood vessels. It is this type of plaque that can lead to arterial narrowing, which can then lead to heart attacks and strokes.

 

In many commercial forms the cocoa used to make chocolate is alkalinized to reduce its bitterness. Unfortunately, this process also removes the flavonoids. Furthermore, processed chocolate also has sugars and saturated fats added to it to enhance flavor, but further reducing its nutritional value. Thus, processed chocolate, of the type found in most candy bars is high in fat, sugar and almost completely devoid of healthy flavonoids.

 

On the other hand, natural chocolate has been previously shown to have health benefits. Eating modest amounts of natural chocolate has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and to improve survival after a heart attack. Other previous studies have shown natural chocolate also improves arterial blood flow. The current study not only demonstrated improved blood flow, but also showed chocolate reduced measures of blood and arterial inflammation.

 

Dark chocolate found in cocoa powders, unsweetened baking chocolate and dark chocolate squares without added sugar are the least likely to be alkalinized. Always select this type of chocolate to both make the most of the health benefits and satisfy your chocolate craving. Because of the caloric content, restrict your intake to no more than 20 g, or about 2 squares per day.

 

To learn more about prevention, treatment and reversal of heart disease, get the book Don’t Let Your Heart Attack!, available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes.

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