Chocolate really takes the edge off. Ask any woman. And science confirms that this treat helps relieve emotional stress and also lowers blood pressure.
A study from the Nestle Research Center (who else?) found that eating 40 grams (about 1.4 ounces) of dark chocolate daily for just two weeks reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and catecholamines, the fight-or-flight hormones.
Most women already knew chocolate relieved stress but this study provided evidence of the biochemical mechanism at work.
But that’s not all it does.
In a study of almost 20,000 Germans over 10 years those who ate the most chocolate (an average of 7.5 grams a day – or a little more than a quarter of an ounce) had lower blood pressure and a 39% lower risk of having a heart attack or stroke compared to those who ate the least (1.7 grams a day).
The lead researcher commented that if people eating the least amount of chocolate increased their intake by six grams a day, 85 fewer heart attacks and strokes per 10,000 people could be expected to occur over a period of about ten years.
The investigators found that chocolate lowers the risk of heart attack and stroke because it has a positive effect on blood pressure.
Since it comes from the cacao plant (don't forget, it's a vegetable!) it contains flavanols, a type of antioxidant. These antioxidants resist or repair damage caused by free radicals which are formed by normal bodily processes and exertion, or by environmental contaminants.
The researchers believe these flavanols may explain why chocolate seems to be good for people's blood pressure and heart health.
But remember, the more cacao is processed, the more flavanols are destroyed, so the best source of antioxidants comes from dark chocolate. Look for a cacao content of 70% or more.
An even better source of flavanols is raw cacao. Available as beans, nibs or powder, raw cacao has the highest concentration of antioxidants of any food.
Stress relief and blood pressure regulation can now be added to a long list of rationales we can cite to justify indulging our chocolate cravings.
Other health benefits of chocolate include:
There are, of course, other sources of antioxidants and other foods that are effective to lower blood pressure and relieve stress, but this research gives all stressed out chocoholics something to celebrate.