Exercise. Eat healthy. Stay slim. Lower your stress.
This “to-do” list is great for a healthy heart, but it may not sound like fun. Thank goodness, there’s chocolate! Hundreds of studies have found that chocolate—specifically, dark chocolate— keeps the heart and blood vessels in good shape. Here are some of the ways this delicious treat helps the heart:
It may decrease inflammation.
During times of stress, the body creates inflammation, which may cause or worsen heart disease. But dark chocolate stops this chain reaction, according to recent research. Men in the study ate either a dark chocolate bar or one that looked the same but didn’t have the healthy substances found in dark chocolate. Then they took a stressful test. Afterwards, blood tests showed that the men who got the real dark chocolate had lower levels of inflammation markers than those who got the fake kind.
It may reduce your chances of having a stroke.
Eating dark chocolate may lower your risk for a stroke, which happens when a blood vessel carrying oxygen to the brain is blocked by a clot or bursts. In a 2012 Finnish study of more than 37,000 men, those who ate about 2 ounces of dark chocolate a week lowered their risk of stroke compared to those who didn’t eat chocolate.
It may lower the risk of heart rhythm problems.
A Dutch study involving more than 55,000 people showed that just 2 to 6 ounces of cocoa per week lowered the risk of developing an irregular heartbeat by 20%. That’s good because people with this heart problem have a 5 times greater risk of having a stroke.
It may improve cholesterol levels.
In research published in 2005, people were given about 3½ ounces of either dark chocolate or white chocolate to eat every day for 15 days. Those who got the dark chocolate lowered their “bad” LDL cholesterol—the type that clogs arteries and slows the flow of blood—by about 12%.
It may improve your circulation.
When the flow of blood to arms and legs slows, it can become painful to walk. But eating 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate helped people with a condition that decreases blood flow to the legsto walk 15 %longer and 11% farther than those who ate milk chocolate, according to a 2014 study.
It may lower blood pressure.
High blood pressure is believed to be responsible for half of the world’s cases of heart problems like heart attacks and strokes. But a little dark chocolate could keep your blood pressure in the healthy range. A review study looking at 35 previous studies found that regularly eating dark chocolate and cocoa products caused small but important decreases in blood pressure.
To get the most out of chocolate, you need the kind with a high amount of cacao beans, the plant that chocolate is made from. Choose brands that say 70% cacao or higher on the label.
Feel free to eat dark chocolate regularly, but don’t overdo it, as excess calories can cause weight gain. A small portion—just a square or two a day—will still put a smile on your face while boosting your heart health.