In the words of Cathy and 30 Rock’s Liz Lemon, “Chocolate! Chocolate! Chocolate! Aack!” To its countless worshippers, chocolate is not just a delicious treat; it’s a lifestyle. So it helps to receive any confirmation whatsoever that it’s a healthy one. Brown University researchers have done their part, finding more evidence to bolster claims that compounds in cocoa are good for your cardiovascular system.
Their study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, analyzed information from controlled trials of more than 1,100 volunteers to determine whether consuming cocoa products containing compounds called flavanols improved certain biomarkers such as cholesterol levels and a person’s sensitivity to insulin, the hormone that controls blood sugar levels.
“We found that cocoa flavanol intake may reduce dyslipidemia (elevated triglycerides), insulin resistance and systemic inflammation, which are all major subclinical risk factors for cardiometabolic diseases,” Dr. Simin Liu, a co-author and director of the Center for Global Cardiometabolic Health at Brown University, said in a statement from that institution.
The results were consistent whether the flavanols were consumed through dark chocolate or beverages made from powdered cocoa. In the university statement, lead author Xiaochen Lin warned against generalizing the results to include chocolate candies or white chocolates, because “the content of sugar/food additives could be substantially higher than that of the dark chocolate.”
The study, which relied on short trials that did not directly look at whether cocoa’s flavanols reduce heart attacks or diabetes cases, could be a stepping stone to larger and more definitive trials on the subject, Liu noted. Although not all the targeted biomarkers changed for the better in the volunteers, the university said, “there were small-to-modest but statistically significant improvements among those who ate flavanol-rich cocoa products,” with the greatest improvements among those who ate 200 to 600 milligrams of flavanols a day.
Among those who ingested smaller amounts, researchers noted a significant increase in good cholesterol, an improved biomarker that was not seen in the higher doses — those people instead experienced benefits to their insulin resistance and a drop in triglycerides, which are involved in storing body fat.
Everyone from researchers to average Joes have been touting the health benefits of cocoa products, largely dark chocolate, for a long time. It has been linked to lower blood pressure and body weight, NPR has reported, as well as serving as an anti-inflammatory and an appetite regulator.
“For centuries, people have been attributing a vast array of health benefits to eating chocolate, from curing infertility and fatigue to fever and dental problems. But so far, the links to lower blood pressure and heart health have been the strongest — and one of the few benefits to pass muster in the eyes of science,” NPR reported.