Chocolate is so often demonised as being bad for your teeth and waistline but the fact is that, in moderation, it can have some pretty surprising health benefits – especially when it comes to your heart.
A new Italian study has found that a daily serving of dark chocolate enriched with extra virgin olive oil boosted participants' cardiovascular health and lowered the risk of potentially fatal problems later in life. Couple this with previous studies suggesting that the sweet treat can also reduce stress and even prevent diabetes, and chocolate is well on its way to becoming the next super food (sort of).
Researchers from the university of Pisa rounded up a small sample of just 26 volunteers (14 men and 12 women), all of whom had at least three cardiovascular risk factors – smoking, dyslipidaemia, hypertension, or family history of cardiovascular disease. Participants were then asked to eat 40 grams of chocolate that was randomly enriched with either olive oil or red apples – two ingredients that are known for their heart health properties – every day for 28 days.
It was found that the chocolate enriched with olive oil was associated with significantly increased levels of high-density lipoprotein ("good") cholesterol and decreased blood pressure – signifying improved heart health and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. In a statement, lead author and cardiologist Dr Rossella Di Stefano said:
"A healthy diet is known to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Fruits and vegetables exert their protective effects through plant polyphenols, which are found in cocoa, olive oil, and apples."
"We found that small daily portions of dark chocolate with added natural polyphenols from extra virgin olive oil was associated with an improved cardiovascular risk profile. Our study suggests that extra virgin olive oil might be a good food additive to help preserve our 'repairing cells', the EPC."
Food for thought…
However, there are some factors to take into consideration before you go stocking up on chocolate supplies. First of all, this study is more of a reflection of the benefits of olive oil rather than chocolate – although it does suggest the properties of both ingredients are strongest when eaten together.
In addition, the small sample size and short trial period means that more research needs to be done before any concrete recommendations can be made.
The study was presented at the European Society of Cardiology congress in Spain.
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