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Chocolate and Heart Health: Better Insulin Sensitivity & More!

Dozens of headlines have proclaimed the health benefits of chocolate. But does it really measure up? According to Dr. Kimberly Beaucamp, a report published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition pooled studies to get the “low down” on chocolate’s effects on cardiovascular health and found that chocolate does indeed have many heart health benefits, including a few unexpected ones.

100’s of Chocolate Studies Reviewed

Researchers from the UK, Australia, and the US reviewed hundreds of studies on chocolate and cardiovascular health. They narrowed their analysis to 42 higher quality studies that included a total of 1,297 people. The goal was to highlight any reductions in heart disease risk from chocolate, cocoa, or a type of bioflavonoid found in chocolate (flavan-3-ols).

After selecting the studies, the team looked at the effects of chocolate on these measures of heart-disease risk:

  • triglycerides
  • cholesterol levels
  • blood pressure
  • insulin levels
  • insulin resistance
  • a measure of blood vessel function (“flow-mediated dilation”)

The studies included in the analysis may have been biased, some because they were funded by the chocolate industry, and others because of less-than-perfect research methods. Nevertheless, a few common threads were seen throughout.

The review confirmed much of what was thought to be true about chocolate’s effects on heart health: chocolate lowers blood pressure, improves insulin sensitivity, and improves flow-mediated dilation.

Alas, Dr. Beaucamp points out that there are other ways to get these same great benefits, without the fat and sugar that often go with chocolate and which present other risks, such as weight gain. Eating greens and boosting omega-3 fatty acids (eating fish and taking fish oil) can help, but there’s something more important:

Take a run. Go for a swim. Exercise!  

You know it’s good for you. But did you know that exercise is one of the best ways to improve insulin sensitivity, lower blood pressure, increase HDL cholesterol, and even to manage arrhythmias? Spring is almost here, so it’s time to get up, get out, and get moving.

But back to chocolate! For more information on chocolate’s potential health benefits, you may want to read the American Journal for Clinical Nutrition’s abstract on the study.