As your post-chocolate jitters are winding down from Valentine’s Day, you might actually consider continuing to treat your sweet tooth to benefit from the healthful antioxidants present in dark chocolate. Once a diet “no-no,” certain chocolates actually contain compounds known as flavonols and polyphenols that can lower blood pressure, increase small vessel circulation and even protect against sunburns.
To be clear, white and milk chocolate are fakers here, health-wise. In fact, white chocolate does not actually contain cocoa. To reap the rewards from chocolate’s antioxidants, choose darker varieties containing at least 70 percent cocoa.
In a recent study led by Dr. Dirk Taubert at the University of Cologne in Germany, researchers demonstrated that the blood pressure of participants who consumed dark chocolate was slightly reduced compared to the blood pressures of the white-chocolate-consuming group.
Another study conducted at the University of Adelaide in Australia found that flavonols in dark chocolate may lower blood pressure by prompting vasodilation — the widening of blood vessels from relaxing blood vessel walls.
“There have, however, been conflicting results as to the real-life effects of eating chocolate,” Dr. Karin Ried said, a researcher from the study. “We’ve found that consumption [of dark chocolate] can significantly, albeit modestly, reduce blood pressure for people with high blood pressure but not for people with normal blood pressure.”
In addition, many other experiments provide compelling data that suggest consuming dark chocolate may improve various other bodily functions for all individuals, not just those with certain existing health issues. In fact, in a recent study led by professor Ian Macdonald at the University of Nottingham, researchers observed increased brain activity in those participants consuming a cocoa beverage.
“Acute consumption of this particular flavonol-rich cocoa beverage was associated with increased gray matter flow for two to three hours,” Macdonald said.
In accordance with the University of Adelaide study, scientists from the University of Nottingham determined the increased cognitive function was a result of vasodilation. Macdonald’s team documented this effect using magnetic resonance imaging.
“The demonstration of an effect of consuming this particular beverage on cerebral blood flow raises the possibility that certain food ingredients may be beneficial in increasing brain blood flow and enhancing brain function in situations where individuals are cognitively impaired such as fatigue, sleep deprivation or possibly aging,” Macdonald said.
In sum, everything in moderation … except for delicious dark chocolate, of course. Although many of us self-proclaimed chocolate snobs secretly love us some white chocolate goodness, avoid that white trash for your health’s sake.