Harvard Health Letter

Dark chocolate protects arteries?

Flavonoids in this guilty pleasure help blood flow.

If you're giving out dark chocolates this Halloween, think about keeping some for yourself. A recent study in the journal BMJ found that consuming dark chocolate can help prevent cardiovascular disease over the long term, and may even be a cost-effective way to do it (about $42 a year). "It's the flavonoids," explains Dr. Eric Rimm, associate professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. "Specific flavonoid compounds in dark chocolate keep the lining of the arteries more reactive to stress and to change in blood flow."

Research has already shown that one or two ounces of dark chocolate daily can have beneficial effects in the short term, such as lowering blood pressure. However, the tasty treat is also high in calories and saturated fat. "You need to be conscious of other desserts or high-caloric foods. Just adding dark chocolate to your diet without taking out other foods can lead to weight gain," says Dr. Rimm. Bottom line: a little dark chocolate is safe and may be good for you, but it's no replacement for meaningful cardiovascular disease prevention.

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