Dark chocolate contains natural compounds called flavonoids that protect your blood vessel walls from free-radical damage. Free radicals come from pollution, smoking and rancid oils, and are a byproduct of normal oxygen metabolism. You only need about 1 to 1.5 ounces dark chocolate per day to see the heart healthy benefits. Speak to your doctor if you’re concerned about your heart health.
Blood Vessel Function
Blood flows through blood vessels called arteries to all the organs and tissues of your body, including the heart muscle itself. Your arteries normally produce a chemical called nitric oxide that widens the blood vessels to improve blood flow, but free radicals can damage arterial walls, causing them to malfunction. Dark chocolate might reverse the dysfunction of blood vessel walls that have been damaged by free radical exposure, according to Harvard Health Publications. Eating dark chocolate may improve heart health by bringing more oxygen and nutrients to your heart muscles. Chocolate might also help reduce blood pressure, which can reduce your risk of heart disease.
Having high cholesterol levels isn’t good for your heart, especially if you have high LDL, or "bad" cholesterol levels -- and cocoa contains two fats called stearic acid and oleic acid that may be good for your cholesterol, according to the University of Michigan Integrated Medicine. Stearic acid is a saturated fat, but unlike most other saturated fats, it doesn’t increase bad cholesterol. Oleic acid is a monounsaturated fat, like the fats found in olive oil, and it may help reduce your cholesterol levels, which reduces your risk of heart disease.
Reduce Blood Clots
You need your blood to clot when you have a cut or bruise to stop the bleeding, but you don’t want your blood to form clots inside your blood vessels. Blood clots form when small blood cells called platelets clump together. The flavonoids in dark chocolate might prevent blood clots from forming, which reduces your risk of heart attacks or strokes due to blocked arteries, according to an article published in in "The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition."
Choosing Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolates are made from cocoa powder, sugar and fats. Choose dark chocolate made with cocoa butter that contains at least 60 percent cocoa in order to get more flavonoids. Avoid dark chocolates that are made with palm oils or coconut oils because these tropical oils contain saturated fats that increase cholesterol levels, according the American Heart Association. Also avoid chocolate made with partially hydrogenated oils because they contain trans fats that increase LDL "bad" cholesterol and lower your HDL "good" cholesterol. Remember you only need a small amount of chocolate; it's high in calories due to the fat and sugar content, and eating too much could contribute to weight gain.
- MayoClinic.com: Can Chocolate Be Good for My Health?
- Harvard Health Publications: The Health Benefits of that Heart-Shaped Box of Dark Chocolate
- Harvard Health Publications: Cocoa Reduces Inflammation Associated with Heart Disease
- EatRight.org: Chocolate Anyone?
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Cocoa Inhibits Platelet Activation and Function
- American Heart Association: Tropical Oils
- MayoClinic.com: Trans Fat Is Double Trouble for Your Heart Health
Sheri Kay has a master's degree in human nutrition. She's the co-author of two books and has been a nutrition and fitness writer since 2004.