Friday, July 02, 2010

Dark Chocolate Lowers Blood Pressure

What if you could obtain the same blood-pressure lowering results exercise provides, but by skipping the exercise and eating dark chocolate?

For all you gluten-free chocolate lovers out there, this is the news you have been waiting for:
all that dark chocolate you consume can actually lower your blood pressure! I personally need no excuse to consume vast amounts of chocolate, but now I can do so knowing there is a rather beneficial side-effect to doing so (presuming I burn off the calories that came with the chocolate).

Researchers combined the results of 15 studies into the effects of flavanols on blood pressure (flavanols being the compounds in chocolate which cause dilation of blood vessels), and in aggregate, the study results pointed to a definite blood-pressure reduction in those individuals with high blood-pressure (no effect on normal blood pressure was found).

The findings were significant, and tie back to my opening question about exercise vs. chocolate consumption:
The pressure reduction seen in the combined results for people with hypertension, 5mm Hg systolic, may be clinically relevant -- it is comparable to the known effects of 30 daily minutes of physical activity (4-9mm Hg) and could theoretically reduce the risk of a cardiovascular event by about 20% over five years.
That is quite interesting! To think that the compounds in cocoa (and thus, chocolate), could have such a beneficial effect on blood pressure that it would compare favorably to exercise. I personally would suggest BOTH (i.e., don't give up exercise for chocolate; lower blood pressure is just ONE benefit of exercise).

The researchers went on to question the application of cocoa (flavanols) to blood pressure due to the fact it implies eating lots of chocolate (sounds easy enough to me), stating :
"The practicability of chocolate or cocoa drinks as long-term treatment is questionable," said Dr Ried.
Well, I would say that Dr. Ried does not fully understand how much chocolate some of us (me personally for example) can consume :)

In our gluten-free desserts recipe book, there are plenty of cocoa (and/or chocolate) containing recipes. I love them all, and now have further reason (aka: excuse!) to eat them:
  • gluten-free chocolate cakes
  • gluten-free chocolate cheesecakes
  • gluten-free puddings
  • gluten-free milkshakes and frozen drinks
In fact, there are a few gluten-free recipes featuring plenty of cocoa and/or chocolate on our Online Free Gluten-Free Recipes Library, including:
To me, further proof that cocoa and dark chocolate is good for our health (blood pressure in this case) is great news. I still expect that the *best* way to get the benefits of those flavanols is to essentially eat plain cocoa and/or 99%-cocoa baking-chocolate, but that sounds a bit rough. So, I will get my cocoa in other ways, and the more the better. But, even if cocoa flavanols can produce an exercise-like benefit, I will still stick with regular exercise in addition - so as to burn off the calories that come with the chocolate.

Now, just in time for this news, my wife has also created some interesting ice-cream-free and milk-free "milkshakes" that are loaded with cocoa. I hope to get the recipe for those up online soon. She basically uses frozen fruit as the base, and lots of cocoa... and, it tastes just like a chocolate milkshake when finished. I've enjoyed between 3 and 4 dozen of these low-cal chocolate "milkshakes" already this summer (mmm!), and it may well be a great way to get the benefits of cocoa without all the usual accompanying calories. Stay tuned, and happy chocolate-eating!