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Could Cocoa Really Be Helpful In Lowering Blood Pressure?

More and more we’re seeing reports on cocoa having positive health benefits. Now it appears there may be  connection with cocoa helping to lower blood pressure as well.

Now before you use this as an excuse to go splurge on a bunch of dark chocolate, let’s put things in perspective.

Just because a set of compounds or something in the composition of a particular food is deemed to have a positive health impact, doesn’t mean it must therefore be “good for you” outside of the realm of moderation.

Hey, I’ve read lots of research that says dandelion greens have positive health benefits, but then again I don’t see anyone running out to buy bags of them to snack on at night either. Let’s face it, chocolate is appealing to the taste for a lot of people, therefore we look for excuses to justify eating more of it.

Let’s just take a step back and chill for a second. We’re not looking for an excuse to eat or not eat anything right now. Let’s just see what the new research is showing us then make some level-headed interpretations.

Ok all you dark chocolate junkies, more after the jump…

Here’s what we’ve already known about cocoa for a little while now. Components in cocoa called “catechins” have been found to promote heart health and lower the risk of diabetes and dementia.

Most of this has to do with cocoa helping to enhance nitric oxide production in the body. In case you don’t know, nitric oxide causes blood vessel wall to relax and open wider. It’s basically a vasodilator in the body. This is one of the main reasons cocoa is reported to be an aphrodisiac.

There now I’ve really done it! Gone and gave you another excuse to splurge on the dark chocolate.

Let’s hold on now…

Just know that cocoa as a natural food has powerful antioxidants and compounds which help to lower systemic inflammation at the cellular level. That’s the basis for the health benefits.

Here’s what the latest research on cocoa revealed about impact on blood pressure

In a study just released in the Cochrane Library Journal, researchers have determined that cocoa may help to reduce blood pressure, albeit a very small amount.

Basically researchers reviewed data from trials in which people consumed dark chocolate or cocoa powder containing between 30-1080 mg of flavanols in differing concentrations (3 to 100 grams) per day.

Yeah, did you pick that up as well? “In differing concentrations between 3 to 100 grams per day.”

That’s a big difference, and 100 grams a day, really are you kidding me? Not to get into a rant about the research particulars. Let’s look at what they found.

Compared to a peer control group receiving no dietary cocoa, blood pressure was lowered between 3-4 mm Hg.

Yes, that’s right between 3 and 4 points! It appears you’re going to have to do more than nibble on your dark chocolate squares at night to lower blood pressure.

Like maybe clean up your diet, do some burst training, work on managing stress…yeah, I know I’m preaching again. Let’s move on.

But seriously, we’re talking about a very small reduction here. So if someone you know is walking around like a ticking time bomb with blood pressure at 180/110 or whatever, 3-4 points is like a drop in the bucket.

That dark chocolate won’t be doing much to help and eight ball says “chances are good” for this person to be “kicking the bucket” unless they take more drastic measures on improving their health.

You’re going to see this story about cocoa reducing blood pressure ALL OVER the media, I can promise you that.

But most people, won’t take the time to investigate what the real bottom line truth is (that is of course unless you forward them to reviews like this) shameless plug.

They’ll glance over it and be like…”Oh, see here my dark chocolate really is good for me and now I know it’ll help lower my blood pressure as well.”

Information that confirms our desires is readily received, seldom questioned, and makes for great readership rates in news or print (which is exactly why you’ll see this story everywhere).

Look, I’m not discrediting the potential health benefits of cocoa. I’m not surprised at all that it could help in small way to lower blood pressure because of what we’ve already known about the anti-inflammatory benefits of natural cocoa beans.

It’s a NATURAL food and therefore by definition it probably has some good stuff the body can benefit from. But then again, this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea that dark chocolate squares becomes a staple in your diet either.

Here’s the other side I don’t see ANY of the media reports covering…

While we have some new research to show that compounds in cocoa may have the ability to lower blood pressure (once again I’m not disputing), who’s talking about the ONE obvious reason we might NOT want to recommend pounding down the dark chocolate for those with already high blood pressure.

What else is cocoa high in? You guessed it CAFFEINE!

And what does caffeine do in the body? Yep, stimulates the adrenal glands and central nervous system thereby raising heart rate.

This is why a lot of people complain about not being able to sleep at night after munching on their little dark chocolate bites. Hello? Anybody out there?

Let me just cut to the chase and say this….I will NOT be recommending cocoa for the purpose of lowering blood pressure any time soon.

It’s reports like this where something is segmented out in research (often times to try and confirm an already predetermined conclusion) that get me going.

What’s the big takeaway if any that can be learned? What does the story really tell us from a practical “how should I live my life” standpoint?

These things often get lost in the shuffle.

Proponents of whatever the research supported will come running out and say, “see I told you so,” without really truly being objective, and those on the other side will be quick to shoot holes in the argument and cry foul.

Then there’s the whole issue with a lot of research being biased from the outset. All you have to do a lot of times is follow the money trail on who funded the research for your clues.

Somewhere in the middle of all the noise, spin, and opinion is something called the truth.

Yeah, believe it or not although you wouldn’t know it by following popular culture, mainstream media, and politicians, there’s still is such a thing as “facts” and bottom line truths.

What’s good for me and what’s bad?

One day coffee is good for you, the next day it’s bad, the same thing for eggs, milk, red meat, wheat, and the list goes on.

Here’s my two cents on this for what it’s worth….

If God made it, it’s got a purpose and there’s undoubtedly some positive health benefits associated with it. This doesn’t mean it will be an optimal source of nutrients and energy for everyone though.

One person may do really well with one of these foods or drink in their diet, the next person not so much. Guess what, people are different. It doesn’t make a natural food necessarily bad just because you might not do well with it.

Every time I see any individual or group look to isolate out entire segments of natural foods from the diet, no matter how much intellectual reasoning is used to justify their position, they can’t really explain (if they’re being honest), how a certain population consumed that food(s) as a staple in their diet and still experienced robust health and longevity.

Think about that for a second.

My point is that I don’t believe any natural food consumed in part of a BALANCED diet can ever be directly linked back to chronic illness or disease.

Likewise I don’t believe that any natural food (isolated) is a magic cure all to reverse or heal chronic illness.

The more a food is in it’s natural and raw state the better, and the more variety with your diet the better.

It’s all about balance in my humble opinion. A little bit here, a little bit there.

Would a little bit of cocoa on occasion be a bad thing in an otherwise healthy and clean diet? Nope, it fact it could be a good thing if we’re following the principals of variety and balance.

Should I look at the positive health benefits of cocoa and use it as mental justification to indulge with dark chocolate on a nightly basis?

I think you already know the answer…

I know the game that’s played in your head and as a coach who’s been doing this a long time, I’ve heard it all before.

“But Shane, it’s better than a Snickers bar and blah…blah.”

Yes, that’s true but are you eating it because you really think it’s going to help you get the body you want, or are you using it as a crutch to justify a sugar addiction?

More often than not, the latter is going on.

People can get all sideways with this stuff and become pretty emotional….”You’re not taking away my chocolate!” And to be honest, telling someone (“X”) is off-limits completely is like telling a kid not to go near the cookie jar. I talked about this earlier in the week in another post. The psychology stinks and the intended result back fires easily.

Nothing is off-limits, but you and only YOU have to decide on whether the amount and frequency of eating something is helping you in the long run (remember the idea of balance), or if you’re using it as a crutch and trying to justify it with reason.

My hope is that this long dissertation has helped at least one person stop for a second and honestly ask themselves the tough questions.

I’ll leave you with this…

Dark chocolate contains cocoa which comes from a fruit, the cacao been of the tropical tree Theobroma cacao. The cocoa is natural and derived from the sun so it’s got lots of antioxidants and phytonutrients. Therefore we can say the root source is good and promotes health.

But while you’re munching on your dark chocolate squares while curled up on the couch at night watching the “tee-vee,” you’re really not just eating natural cocoa beans now are you?

Nope, you’re eating a product made by combining chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, vanilla, leicithin (an emulsifier), and sugar (yes, that’s right sugar).

Sure it’s not as much sugar as contained in milk chocolate but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s sugar-free either. If there wasn’t any sugar, vanilla, or cocoa butter we’d call it “bitter” or “baking” chocolate.

Yeah, you want to find a dark chocolate with a high cocoa content (although it won’t be as sweet), so you’re getting the most benefit from an antioxidant standpoint. Plus it should be low in sugar as added benefit.

If you want to keep some dark chocolate around to help take the edge off when a craving kicks up and it will help keep you from running out and buying Dove bars in your pajamas, then by all means go for it.

But then again if you’re going through dark chocolate faster than you are fresh fruit, and it’s become a regular night-time snack, you’ll want to ask yourself the tough questions.

Just saying…

Bottom line is the ol’ dark chocolate can be good or it can be bad, all depends on how you’re using it. But one thing is for sure, it won’t be working wonders to cure hypertension any time soon.

Make sure anyone you know who needs to hear the whole story, has the chance to do so. Don’t let them stumble on to this story in the media and jump to conclusions. Share it on Facebook, email a link to a friend,etc. Take care- Shane

Shane Doll is a certified personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts Fitness Training Studios. If you’re looking for a personal trainer in Charleston, you can receive a no-obligations personal training trial and consultation without risking a dime. Over 1000 Charleston area residents have transformed their bodies following our unique burst training workouts and simplified nutrition programs. Experience the Shaping Concepts difference today.

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Category: Nutrition.