Foods rich in cocoa appear to reduce blood pressure, but drinking tea may not, according to an analysis of previously published research in the April 9 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.

Current guidelines advise individuals with hypertension (high blood pressure) to eat more fruits and vegetables, according to background information in the article. Compounds known as polyphenols or flavonoids in fruits and vegetables are thought to contribute to their beneficial effects on blood pressure and cardiovascular risk.

“Tea and cocoa products account for the major proportion of total polyphenol intake in Western countries,” the authors write. “However, cocoa and tea are currently not implemented in cardioprotective or antihypertensive dietary advice, although both have been associated with lower incidences of cardiovascular events.”

Dirk Taubert, MD, PhD, and colleagues at the University Hospital of Cologne, Germany, conducted a meta-analysis of 10 previously published trials: five of cocoa’s effects on blood pressure and five involving tea. Four of the five cocoa studies showed a reduction in both systolic (the top number, when the heart contracts) and diastolic (the bottom number, when the heart relaxes) blood pressure.

Drinking tea was not associated with a reduction in blood pressure in any of the trials. While tea and cocoa are both rich in polyphenols, cocoa contains a polyphenol called “procyanids.” According to the researchers, “this suggests that the different plant phenols must be differentiated with respect to their blood pressure-lowering potential and thus cardiovascular disease prevention, supposing that the tea phenols are less active than cocoa phenols.”

The findings do not indicate a widespread recommendation for higher cocoa intake to decrease blood pressure, but it appears reasonable to substitute phenol-rich cocoa products like dark chocolate for other high-calorie or high-fat desserts or dairy products, the researchers note.

“We believe that any dietary advice must account for the high sugar, fat and calorie intake with most cocoa products,” they conclude. “Rationally applied, cocoa products might be considered part of dietary approaches to lower hypertension risk.”

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