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chocolate cacao powder text 263x164 Compiled Research Showing How Chocolate Lowers Blood Pressure, Prevents Obesity, and MoreThe health benefits of chocolate are many—soothing a broken heart, celebrating a promotion, or commemorating a birthday. Oh, and the health benefits are impressive too. Originating in Central America, where they were believed to have even magical and divine benefits, cacao beans are now processed into thousands upon thousands of delicious creations, the best of which could help keep your heart healthy.

The cardiovascular benefits of chocolate come largely from its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It’s loaded with flavanols like quercetin and theobromine.

It’s these flavanols that were credited in a recent study for providing better coronary artery protection than coffee and green tea. An ongoing study, according to NaturalNews, is looking at the preventative effects of cacao’s flavanols and polyphenols on coronary heart disease.

“Data currently available indicate that daily consumption of cocoa-rich chocolate (rich in polyphenols) may at least partially lower cardiovascular disease risk.”

A study published last year looking at the historical uses of chocolate said that modern research has only begun to touch on all of the heart healthy benefits of the plant. The abstract reads: “The consumption of cocoa/chocolate increases plasma antioxidant capacity, diminishes platelet function and inflammation, and decreases diastolic and systolic arterial pressures.”

“The blood pressure lowering effects and the anti-inflammatory activity of dark chocolate suggests its use as potential prophylactic and therapeutic agent, in particular considering that epidemiological studies suggest that dark chocolate is inversely associated with CAD.”

Chocolate can also help prevent heart disease by protecting consumers against cardiovascular risk factors including obesity, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes. By reducing oxidative stress at a cellular level, cocoa polyphenols can protect the body from the damage that leads to heart disease. It is also able to lower cholesterol and decrease blood pressure in hypertensive patients.

The blood pressure and cholesterol lowering effects of dark chocolate consumption are beneficial in the prevention of cardiovascular events in a population with metabolic syndrome. Daily dark chocolate consumption could be an effective cardiovascular preventive strategy in this population.”

Which Chocolate to Choose

So how can you reap the heart healthy benefits of chocolate?

Know your chocolate. A milk chocolate bar or a pint of chocolate ice cream will not have these many listed benefits, or at the very last, not to the same degree as other more nutritionally-rich chocolates. Instead, chocolate with the highest levels of cocoa per ounce will deliver the most bang for your buck without adding as much sugar to your diet. The answer in simple terms? Dark chocolate.

Look for chocolate with at least 70% cocoa listed. You can further seek out organic, fair trade chocolates free of ingredients like soy lecithin. As HealthyEater reports, many chocolates are processed with alkali, which can affect the amount of polyphenols within, so look for those that have not been through a “dutching” process.

Enjoy the the many dark chocolate health benefits now! Have a small square or two per day to help keep your heart healthy and even keep cravings at bay.