Dark chocolate

Open wide. Insert dark chocolate. Chew slowly, savor and lick any bits off fingers. Smile broadly as you bask in the relief that this guilty pleasure is actually helping your heart.

After all, one more study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology said so.

Bless you, science.

"Our study suggests that chocolate helps keep the heart's blood vessels healthy," said study author Dr. Chayakrit Krittanawong of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.

"Chocolate contains heart healthy nutrients such as flavonoids, methylxanthines, polyphenols and stearic acid, which may reduce inflammation and increase good cholesterol," Krittanawong added.

All those big words — flavonoids, methylxanthines, polyphenols and stearic acids — are just a fancy way of saying that chocolate is choc-full of antioxidants that help reduce inflammation, improve blood flow and boost mood and concentration.

In fact, a single serving of a cocoa product can contain more phytochemical antioxidants than most foods and more procyanidins — which block the uptake of bad cholesterol — than most Americans consume each day.

Here's another cool thing about chocolate — its antioxidant properties hold up over time. Unlike green tea, which degrades with shelf life, chocolate bars maintain their potency over at least 50 weeks while cocoa beans and powder remain stable for 75 years!

Dark or milk chocolate

This new study looked back over five decades of studies and found eating chocolate more than once a week was associated with an 8% decreased risk of coronary artery disease.

Prior studies have echoed that benefit. Cocoa consumption is associated with significantly lower cardiovascular and all-cause mortality (death by any cause). It helps keep plaque from building up in the lining of blood vessels and reduces blood pressure. It's been shown to help prevent stroke and heart failure.

And it's not just the heart. Chocolate has also been linked to improving blood flow to the brain, which may help with cognitive function. It might boost oxygen delivery during fitness training. But it doesn't appear to be so good for the skin — a recent study found a link to acne.

Many of the studies have focused on dark chocolate. That's because the darker the chocolate the higher the percentage of cocoa solids — where all the good stuff is. But if the dark chocolate is highly processed by a manufacturer, that benefit can decline. (Tip: To get the least processed cocoa powder, look for brands that have not been treated with an alkali to neutralize its natural acidity — typically called Dutch processing.)

Dark chocolate does have a much lower sugar content and fewer calories than milk or white chocolate, because those are mixed with powdered or condensed milk. So your healthiest choice is likely dark chocolate candy or bars and unprocessed cocoa powder.

Does that mean you can just chow down on dark chocolate to your heart's content? That's probably not a great idea, especially if you opt for more fattening versions packed with caramel or nuts. It's best to enjoy a 1-ounce bite a few times per week, and focus on adding flavonoids to your diet with apples, tea, citrus fruits, onions and berries.

"Moderate amounts of chocolate seem to protect the coronary arteries but it's likely that large quantities do not," Krittanawong said. "The calories, sugar, milk and fat in commercially available products need to be considered, particularly in diabetics and obese people."

CNN

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