Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Can You Really Lower Blood Pressure by Eating Chocolate?

Actually, the answer may be yes!

A study featured in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2007 showed that eating dark chocolate daily over the course of 18 weeks effectively lowered blood pressure – and without weight gain. Now is that good news, or what? But not just any chocolate will do – it has to be DARK, and only a small amount is needed. (Sad, I know.)

Dark Chocolate 101

Cacao is the name of the plant from which cocoa is made. Dark chocolate has a high percentage of cacao or cocoa, terms which are used interchangeably when labeling chocolate – so don’t get confused! For our purposes the chocolate needs to be at least 70% cacao. Unfortunately this means that Hershey’s Extra Dark (60%) and Cacao Reserve (65%), both of which are (readily available just about anywhere candy is sold, both fall short. But do not despair! There are plenty of options, just not the Hershey brand.

Dark Chocolate and Blood Pressure

So what’s the deal with dark chocolate and blood pressure anyway? Well, apparently there’s something in that chocolate that causes the release of nitric oxide that in turn causes blood vessels to dilate which increases blood flow. The other good news is that improved circulation has also been linked to improved memory! Now couldn’t we all use that as the years go by?

Consult Your Doctor

Let your doctor in on what you’re doing. Make sure you continue to take whatever blood pressure medications have already been prescribed. Do not even think about adjusting your dose without your doctor’s blessing! Remember that dark chocolate does not replace hypertension medications, but a little each day may help reduce blood pressure.

Putting it to the Test

To test whether dark chocolate will work for you -
  • Buy some of the appropriate chocolate. Read the label to ensure it contains at least 70% cacao (or cocoa). Readily available options include DOVE® Extra Dark Chocolate (71% cacao), Ghiradelli Twilight Delight (72% cacao), and Lindt Excellence Intense Dark (70% cocoa) or Extra Dark (85% cocoa).
  • Once you have your chocolate, check how many squares are in the bar and determine how long it will last. The amount to eat each day is only about ¼ ounce (yes, I was disappointed, too). For example, a 3.5-ounce Lindt bar with 10 squares (about ⅓ ounce each) will last 10 days.
  • Enjoy one piece of dark chocolate each day. Sit down and relax. Play soft music, if you like. Really enjoy your chocolate!
  • Buy more dark chocolate, as needed, and continue this experiment for 4½ months. Be sure to monitor your blood pressure on a regular basis and track your results.
More Info

A variety of information is available online. Just do a search for 'dark chocolate and blood pressure' and you should come up with the latest info.

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