Chocolate is now being considered as heart-healthy as red wine and green tea. All contain a sub-class of antioxidant polyphenols called flavanols, which deactivate the free radicals in blood.
Free radicals can oxidize the LDL (bad) cholesterol in your blood and lead to plaque build-up, lesions, and "hardening of the arteries." This process is often compared to a build-up of rust in a water pipe that eventually leads to blockage of the water flow.
Flavanols have also been shown to stimulate the production of nitric oxide gas, which relaxes and widens arteries, allowing for the easy flow of blood and reducing blood pressure. In fact, one study showed that people who ate dark chocolate every day for a week saw a drop in blood pressure. As with blood pressure medication, when they stopped eating the chocolate, their blood pressure went back up.
A joint US – Swedish study suggests that eating chocolate can help heart attack victims avoid death from heart-related problems.
According to an article in the Journal of Internal Medicine, eating chocolate two or more times per week led to a 66% reduction in cardiac mortality. Eating chocolate, but eating it less than once per month, was associated with a 27% reduction while once a week led to a 44% reduction.
This is the first study to follow men and women following a heart attack. 1,169 non-diabetic participants were followed for 8 years after first completing a questionnaire to assess chocolate consumption over the course of 12 months.
While most studies have centered around the consumption of dark chocolate, this research did not note whether participants ate dark or milk chocolate, or whether they ate US chocolate or that produced in the European Union. US milk chocolate must contain 10% cocoa solids and dark chocolate contains 15%. In the European Union, milk chocolate contains 25% cocoa solids while dark contains 35%.
Of course, beneficial use of chocolate is like beneficial use of red wine – both should be taken in moderation.