From our One-Bowl Chocolate Cake to our Chocolate Avocado Shake, there is no shortage of ways to use this popular ingredient for a delicious treat. It is also the first comfort food that people turn to, on good and bad days. Better yet, chocolate (especially dark chocolate) has some impressive health benefits, from boosting mental sharpness to helping reduce diabetes risk. Chocolate might actually have some heart healthy benefits, as well. A recent study looked into how flavanols found in cocoa, an antioxidant-rich ingredient in chocolate, can help protect your heart from stressful events.
A recent study published in Nutrients looked at how the consumption of cocoa flavanols (an antioxidant found in fruits, vegetables and more) influenced the tax that stressful events can put on our heart. Mental stress can have a negative effect on our blood vessel function, which can increase the risk of stroke, heart attacks, heart disease, diabetes and more. Participants in this study were given a flavanol-rich cocoa drink 90 minutes before completing an 8-minute mental stress test. Participants who drank the flavanol-rich cocoa drink had better blood vessel function during the mental stress test compared to those with non-flavanol-rich chocolate drinks. Better blood vessel function during stress can help lower the risk of negative heart health effects, such as stroke and heart attacks.
So does this mean you should turn to hot cocoa or chocolate every time you run into a stressful situation? Not necessarily. In this study, participants received a drink consisting of high-flavanol cocoa powder and water, with no added sugar. This would result in a drink much more bitter than your average hot cocoa. Try to limit the amount of added sugar in the cocoa drinks and chocolate you consume. Making your own is a great way to control the sweetness. Also, choose dark chocolate when you can as it is typically higher in antioxidants than milk or other chocolate. Other high-flavanol foods, like fruits, vegetables, olive oil, nuts and tea, can also help you reap the heart-healthy benefits of antioxidants.
We have all experienced some additional stress over the last year. This recent study suggests that enjoying more flavanol-rich foods might help. Enjoy cocoa, dark chocolate and other antioxidant-packed foods to help protect your heart against mentally stressful events.