Dark chocolate (not milk chocolate or dark chocolate eaten with milk) has recently been found to be a potent antioxidant. Antioxidants remove free radicals from the body – destructive molecules that are implicated in heart disease and other ailments.
Findings indicate that milk may interfere with the absorption of antioxidants from chocolate, and may therefore negate the potential health benefits that can be derived from eating moderate amounts of dark chocolate.
One study found that a substance in cocoa helps the body process nitric oxide (NO), a compound critical for healthy blood flow and blood pressure. Another study showed that flavonols in cocoa prevent fat-like substances in the bloodstream from oxidizing and clogging the arteries, and make blood platelets less likely to stick together and cause clots. Flavonoids are plant compounds with potent antioxidant properties; so far, scientists have found more than 4,000 kinds. Cocoa beans contain large quantities of flavonoids, as do red wine, tea, cranberries, peanuts, strawberries, apples and many other fruits and vegetables. The flavonoids in chocolate are called flavonols.
It has been found that dark chocolate generally is higher in flavonoids than milk chocolate. The way that cocoa powder and chocolate syrups are manufactured removes most flavonoids.
Eating more dark chocolate can help lower blood pressure, if you've reached a certain age and have mild high blood pressure. But you have to balance the extra calories by eating less of other things.
Epidemiology studies have documented a correlation between high cocoa consumption and high MS incidence. When cocoa is introduced to an area, MS incidence rises sharply. Cases are reported in which chocolate ingestion by MS patients was followed by exacerbations [Maas AG, Hogenhuis LAH. Multiple sclerosis and possible relationship to cocoa: A hypothesis. Ann Allergy 59: pp.76- 9, 1987]
Dark chocolate – not white chocolate – lowers high blood pressure, say Dirk Taubert, MD, PhD, and colleagues at the University of Cologne, Germany. Their report appears in the August 27th, 2003 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.