Eat Your Way to Chocolate Bliss While Saving Your Heart
The disease processes that lead to heart attack and death can begin frighteningly early—in childhood—provided a child is inactive and overweight. That was the alarming news out of Finland recently, where researchers at the University of Eastern Finland studied sedentary children aged 6-8. At the tender age of 6 some of the children in the study already showed signs of early heart disease.
The take-away message is clear: It’s never too early to think about keeping your heart and vascular system healthy. Fortunately, it’s relatively simple. Two major lifestyle factors affect heart health: Diet and exercise. Exercise because physical activity is a fundamental requirement for longterm health, including the health of the blood vessels. And diet, because it can contribute so much to one’s overall health—for good or bad.
Some foods are hard on the blood vessels. Research suggests that diets rich in red meat and processed meats are associated with worse cardiovascular health. On the other hand, diets rich in plants foods—including fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, herbs and spices—tend to be linked to better cardiovascular health. In general, foods rich in natural antioxidants tend to be god for heart health.
We all know that cholesterol has been linked to heart disease risk, but did you know that only about 25% of your blood cholesterol level comes from the diet? The rest is largely determined by one’s genetic makeup. Rather, what’s more important is whether or not your LDL-cholesterol is peroxidated. Cholesterol that undergoes this reaction in the body becomes especially damaging to blood vessel linings. It’s more likely to develop when the diet features too few natural antioxidants. Diets rich in fruits, vegetables, and other plant foods are usually rich in antioxidants.
And one of nature’s most potent sources of powerful antioxidants is cocoa. Dark chocolate featuring high concentrations of cocoa is great for the cardiovascular system. Don’t just take my word for it. Consider this statement from a researcher whose work was published recently in the British Journal of Nutrition. In a well-designed, controlled study, he and his colleagues gave cocoa flavanols to volunteers, twice daily, for one month. The results were impressive: “We found that intake of flavanols significantly improves several of the hallmarks of cardiovascular health," says Professor Malte Kelm. The ability of blood vessels to dilate increased by 21%. That’s a clear indication of improved function. Blood vessel stiffness is a hallmark of developing cardiovascular disease.
So embrace real chocolate. Your heart will thank you.
Roberto Sansone, Ana Rodriguez-Mateos, Jan Heuel, David Falk, Dominik Schuler, Rabea Wagstaff, Gunter G. C. Kuhnle, Jeremy P. E. Spencer, Hagen Schroeter, Marc W. Merx, Malte Kelm, Christian Heiss. Cocoa flavanol intake improves endothelial function and Framingham Risk Score in healthy men and women: a randomised, controlled, double-masked trial: the Flaviola Health Study. British Journal of Nutrition, 2015; 1 DOI: 10.1017/S0007114515002822