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If you needed another reason to eat chocolate: you now can eat it and lower your blood pressure at the same time. So says one of the largest studies ever completed on the health benefits of chocolate. Results of this study released this month by The Cochrane Library with over 800 people from 20 different studies indicated that chocolate and cocoa products had a significant effect in lowering blood pressure.

But before you bite into your next chocolate bar, the researchers cautioned that the health benefits were only found in those chocolate products containing significant amounts of the powerful antioxidant molecule, flavanol, that comes from the cocoa plant itself.

Processing the cocoa seeds to a final chocolate product varies significantly by the manufacturer as well as what type of chocolate product is being made. Certain dark chocolate and cocoa powders contain more of the original plant cocoa molecules, whereas milk and white chocolate have significantly less. The amount of flavanols, which are part of the family of healthy molecules called polyphenols, retained in the chocolate after processing provide the critical health benefits.

As noted by the authors, because most dark chocolate and cocoa powder products don’t actually list the amount of flavanols or other polyphenols they contain, even those chocolate bars marked with 70% cocoa or more may contain less than what has been shown to help with blood pressure. One way to ensure that you are obtaining significant levels of healthy polyphenols from chocolate is to use cocoa-containing dietary supplements that list these healthy chocolate molecules on their labels. A product called CocoaWell™ made by ResVitale™ and another by Reserveage™ Organics, actually contain 450 mgs of polyphenols including 225 mgs of flavanols per two capsules. Additionally, the capsules contain 350 mgs of organic cocoa powder that also contains flavanols—all listed on the labels.

Saying that chocolate is a health food is still a stretch for most physicians. But consider dark chocolate in moderation or cocoa dietary supplements as a way to obtain the cocoa tree’s powerful and health-promoting nutrients.

Karin Ried, Effect of cocoa on blood pressure, The Cochrane Library Published Online: 15 AUG 2012

Joseph C. Maroon, MD

Neurosurgeon, Vice Chairman and Professor of the Department of Neurological Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, is regarded as a premiere specialist in the surgical treatment of injuries and diseases of the brain and spine.

Dr. Maroon’s latest book “The Longevity Factor: How Resveratrol and Red Wine Activate Genes for a Longer and Healthier Life” is now available!