Heading to your local natural and organic food store?
Then be sure to stop by the chocolate aisle.
Eating a small amount of dark chocolate every day offers some health benefits, courtesy of the flavonoids it contains (naturally occurring antioxidants also found in teas, red wine, and some fruits and vegetables).
These flavonoids have been associated with a beneficial effect on the cardiovascular system, according to the August issue of Mayo Clinic Women’s HealthSource. One recent study showed 6 grams of dark chocolate a day—about one square—lowered systolic and diastolic blood pressure by 2 points each.
Dark chocolate may also lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels by about 5 points. While not a huge effect, it sends “bad” cholesterol in the right direction. Flavonoids also have a beneficial effect on how the lining of the blood vessels functions.
“We think a lot of bad things that happen to the cardiovascular system are because the lining of the vessels cracks and becomes inflamed, setting the stage for plaques to form and rupture,” says Robert Sheeler, MD, a family physician at the Mayo Clinic.
But to gain health benefits, moderation is key. There’s no need to eat an entire chocolate bar, which contains calories and fat. Dr. Sheeler says one square weighs in at a healthy 30 calories. He recommends chocolate that contains at least 60% cocoa. Milk chocolate typically has 15%–25%, while dark chocolate tends to have 50%–80% (or more) cocoa.
There’s also no need to buy the priciest brands. Some high-quality dark chocolate bars are available for $2–$4 each.