Heart benefits of Chocolate

Written by: 
Dr Sarah Brewer

Dark chocolate contains large quantities of the complex antioxidant substances called flavonoids, similar to those found in red wine and green tea. While some flavonoids are built up from just one chemical unit (monomers), dark chocolate is especially rich in those consisting of two, three or more different units (oligomers), which have greater health benefits.

The benefits

Eating dark chocolate has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity and ‘good’ HDL-cholesterol and to decrease blood pressure and ‘bad’ LDL-cholesterol, while reducing unwanted blood cell clumping and inflammation. [1-4]. Researchers have also discovered that eating 45g of dark chocolate per day significantly increases blood flow through the coronary arteries. [5]. 

The downside

Although chocolate brings undoubted health benefits, it also contains plenty of calories. A 100g bar of dark chocolate contains 510kcal of energy. White chocolate (529kcal per 100g) contains no cocoa flavonoids and provides no health benefits, while milk chocolate (520kcal per 100g) contains increased amounts of sugar and fat, which offset any benefits obtained from its lower flavonoid content. 

If you decide to eat chocolate for health (or pleasure):

  • Select the dark versions containing at least 72 per cent cocoa solids
  • Eat chocolate after a meal, when you are full and less likely to over-indulge
  • Buy small bars, not family-sized slabs
  • Let chocolate rest in your mouth for long enough to melt and coat your taste-buds, to experience the full range of flavours and textures
  • Learn to savour the lingering memory of each bite before immediately devouring the next.

1 Grassi D et al. J. Nutr. 2008;138(9):1671-6 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18716168

2 Hamed M S et al. South Med. J. 2008;101(12):1203-8 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19005437

3 Di Giuseppe R et al. J. Nutr. 2008;138(10):1939-45 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18806104 

4 Shiina Y et al. Int. J. Cardiol. 2009;131(3):424-9 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18045712

5 Shiina Y et al. Int. J. Cardiol. 2009;131(3):424-9 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18045712