Perhaps the most painless path to better cardiovascular health is one that comes all-too-naturally to many people: eating chocolate. Earlier research had established a link between cocoa-based confections and lowered blood pressure or improvement in blood flow, which often attributed to antioxidants.
Oscar Franco and colleagues from the University of Cambridge reviewed half-a-dozen studies covering 100,000 patients, with and without heart disease, comparing the group that consumed the most and the least chocolate in each. They found that the highest level of chocolate intake was associated with a 37% reduction in cardiovascular disease, and a 20% drop in strokes, when compared with the chocolate-adverse cohort. But no significant reduction was reported in the incidence of heart attack.
The findings, alas, come with an important caveat: the healthful molecules are found in the bitter cacao, which grow on the cacao tree and are full of natural plant nutrients; not in the sugar and fat with which they are routinely combined. Commercially available chocolate is very calorific and eating too much of it could in itself lead to weight gain, risk of diabetes and heart disease.
Most of the studies to date highlight dark chocolate's health values because it has the highest percentage of cocoa solids, therefore more flavanol antioxidants. In fact, ounce for ounce, dark chocolate and cocoa have more antioxidants than do foods like blueberries, green tea and red wine.
Antioxidants work by protecting your cells from damaging molecules called free radicals. Free radicals are basically unstable oxygen molecules that can trigger changes in the structure of normally healthy cells. This damage is thought to be an underlying cause of many chronic diseases. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals. Free radicals are a natural by-product of life, but as we get older the natural antioxidants our body makes to fight them off begin to decline. The best way to recharge your antioxidant power is to get them through your diet. Now you know why you are always told to eat more fruits and vegetables.