As we kick off Heart Month and think of Valentine’s Day approaching, we should all be thinking of our “Heart” health. For many, dietary changes and other lifestyle modifications are effective for the prevention and as a part of the management of cardiovascular diseases. Regular dietary intake of plant-derived foods and beverages are routinely recommended to decrease the risk of heart disease among the general population.
Dark chocolate and cocoa products have garnered recent attention specifically as a potential dietary approach to lower blood pressure and other risk factors for cardiovascular disease. For centuries, cocoa has been recognized for its delectable taste and proposed health benefits, perhaps as just wishful thinking for many.
A little chocolate in the diet may actually be a desirable and pleasurable way to approach health for many people. Though the overall health benefits remain controversial, observations in some populations have shown an impressive cardiovascular health benefit from cocoa. Research suggests that cocoa does indeed exert beneficial cardiovascular effects, mediated largely through the flavanol components. Flavanols may contribute to enhancements in vascular function and subsequent improvements in various contributors to cardiovascular disease including hypertension, platelet aggregation and adhesion, insulin resistance, and hypercholesterolemia.
Unfortunately, like other dietary supplements, unresolved issues regarding dosing and the lack of clarity surrounding product components make it difficult to recommend chocolate as a supplement specifically for cardiovascular disease risk reduction. A prudent approach is consideration of the inclusion of “healthy” dark chocolate (high cacao, low fat and sugar) in moderation as a part of overall lifestyle modifications for the prevention or treatment of cardiovascular risk factors. For many people, “healthy” dark chocolate and a little coffee may, indeed, provide a great Valentines gift and a pleasurable role in heart health!