For centuries, cocoa has been appreciated for its great taste, but also for its health benefits. Considered a divine beverage since approximately 1,600 B.C., cocoa was imported by 16th century explorers and it spread across Europe thereafter. Many properties were attributed to it over time, including that it counters fatigue, improves heart health, promotes digestion, improves renal function and even treats anemia.
Nowadays, however, eating chocolate is linked to cavities, obesity, hypertension and diabetes, due to the significant amounts of fat and sugar contained in most popular chocolate products. It is therefore important to know the difference between raw cocoa and chocolate; many of the benefits associated with consuming cocoa or flavonol-rich dark chocolate cannot apply to milk chocolate or white chocolate, as these contain very little cocoa flavonol but a lot of fat and sugar.
A new study conducted in California suggests that cocoa containing high levels of flavonol, a chemical compound found in plants, may have a beneficial effect on blood vessels. In order to come to this conclusion, the researchers offered a twice-daily cocoa beverage to coronary artery disease patients who were on an optimal drug treatment. The beverages were not all identical: some were particularly high in flavonols, for example 375 mg per portion, compared to others that contained only 8 mg. Various parameters were assessed, including the influence of these compounds on certain specialized endothelial cells that play an important role in the body’s ability to regenerate damaged blood vessels and also in the progression of coronary artery disease.
The results show that the higher the level of flavonol contained in the cocoa, the more beneficial it is to the cells. The researchers conclude that a regular intake of foods containing flavonols could contribute to repairing blood vessels and thus have an positive impact on the progression of cardiovascular disease.
These results concur with previous research showing that cocoa could be beneficial for blood pressure, insulin resistance, as well as vascular and platelet function. If you like dark chocolate, you can now partake of it with a clear conscience… but as always, in moderation!