CHICAGO – A study of older men in Netherlands, known for its luscious chocolate, indicated those who ate the equivalent of one-third of a chocolate bar every day had lower blood pressure and a reduced risk of death.
However, it’s too early to conclude it was chocolate that led to better health, researchers said. The men who ate more cocoa products could have shared other qualities that made them healthier. Experts also point out that eating too much chocolate can make you fat, a risk for both heart disease and high blood pressure.
“It’s way too early to make recommendations about whether people should eat more cocoa or chocolate,” said Brian Buijsse, a nutritional epidemiologist at Wageningen University in Netherlands, who co-authored the study.
Also, “If you look at the other interventional studies, you see the same effects in men and women, younger people and older people. It may be the findings are generalizable to women, but you never know,” Buijsse said.
Still, the Dutch study, supported by grants from the Netherlands Prevention Foundation, appears to be the largest so far to document a health effect for cocoa beans. And it confirms findings of smaller, shorter-term studies that also linked chocolate with lower blood pressure.
The findings are based on data collected for more than a decade on Dutch men who were ages 65 and older in 1985. The long-running Zutphen Elderly Study has been used by other researchers to look for risk factors for chronic disease.
This time, researchers examined the eating habits of 470 healthy men who were not taking blood pressure medicine. The men who ate the most products made from cocoa beans – including cocoa drinks, chocolate bars and chocolate pudding – had lower blood pressure and a 50 percent lower risk of death.
Cocoa beans contain flavanols, which are thought to increase nitric oxide in the blood and improve the function of blood vessels.