Researchers have known for some time that chocolate - especially dark chocolate - is good for the heart. Now, they know why.
Besides tasting good, researchers found dark chocolate is protective against heart disease in two ways; it restores flexibility to stiffening arteries and prevents white blood cells from sticking to the insides of blood vessel walls. Both conditions can lead to the formation of plaque, which blocks arteries, causing heart disease.
The findings were made by Dutch researchers in a study of 44 middle-aged, overweight men who ate 70 grams of both dark and milk chocolate per day over two periods of four weeks.
The heart healthy substance in chocolate is an organic compound called flavanol. Flavanols are also found in vegetables, fruits and green tea.
Gerald Weissmann is editor-in-chief of the FASEB Journal, which published the study.
He says researchers discovered that there’s something about the flavanols in dark chocolate that makes people prefer it to milk chocolate.
“In this controlled study, the first time it’s ever been done, they gave the same amount of flavanol in dark chocolate and regular chocolate. And lo and behold, the men didn’t have different amounts of flavanols in the diet. But they ate more of the dark chocolate one because they liked it better," said Weissmann.
Researchers evaluated the men’s preference for dark chocolate by asking them to rate its sensory properties including smell and taste. Again, Gerald Weissmann.
“So, the taste component or psychological component of dark chocolate improved, number one, the elasticity and response of the arteries to blood flow, number two, the way that neutrophils - white cells - stick to the lining of blood vessels and number three, markers of inflammation," he said.
And knowing it was heart healthy seemed to make the men felt less guilty about indulging their sweet tooth.
Researchers may someday develop a therapy that has the same health benefits as dark chocolate. But even if they do, eating a bar of dark chocolate will still be more enjoyable.