Cocoa Flavonols for Heart Health

The world’s been going kookoo for cocoa, and researchers are catching on. As more and more people trade in the milk chocolate for dark—rich in cocoa flavonols, antioxidants, and minerals—scientists want to know the extent of cocoa’s health benefits, minus the sugar and fat. Smaller studies suggest that cocoa flavanols found in dark chocolate impart heart-healthy benefits like improved…

  • Blood pressure
  • Insulin sensitivity
  • Artery health

The study, funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and Mar’s Inc. (the makers of Snickers and M&Ms), will be the first large-scale test of cocoa flavanols.

Dark Chocolate ChunksThe Chocolate Pill

The Mars company has patented a way to extract flavanols from cocoa into capsule form. Eating chocolate in a pill takes away the fun and taste, but allows researchers to test the benefits without the fat and sugar that comes in candy bar form. Eighteen thousand American men and women will take either dummy pills, or capsules filled with active cocoa flavanols twice a day for four years.

Researchers will also be testing the effectiveness of multivitamins on cancer prevention in healthy men and women. Participants will likewise either take a placebo pill, or a broad spectrum multivitamin.

The Benefits of Dark Chocolate

Don’t rush out and stock up on candy bars just yet. You’d have to eat heaps of dark chocolate to equal the flavanol power of the chocolate capsules. Dr. Manson, who will lead the study, explains: “You’re not going to get these protective flavanols in most of the candy on the market. Cocoa flavanols are often destroyed by the processing.”

The flavanols in the cocoa bean are unique, and have been proven to offer heart-protective benefits. Studies suggest that eating a moderate amount of dark chocolate two to three times a week can help lower blood pressure, boost blood flow to the brain and the heart, and may even help inhibit the formation of blood clots and the hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis).

Other studies suggest that a small amount of dark chocolate a day helps to keep blood vessels healthy and protects against type 2 diabetes by promoting optimal cell function and improving the body’s use of insulin. Dark chocolate also boasts a low glycemic index, which means it doesn’t contribute to spikes in blood sugar levels.

The key to benefiting from dark chocolate’s heart healthy nutrients is to invest in premium quality. Cocoa content should be at 75% or above—the higher the better if you can tolerate the bitter sweetness of the cocoa bean. Dagoba organic chocolate offers a variety of flavors, and is organic and fair trade with a cocoa content of up to 87%!

We’ll follow the current research and let you know how the cocoa capsules fare. Until then, keep enjoying that dark chocolate…in moderation, of course.