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Chocolate and Blood Pressure

The news about chocolate always seems to be good these days. Once thought of as just one more candy, chocolate is now celebrated as a terrific natural source of antioxidants.

Now that seems to mean that chocolate may play a part in reducing blood pressure.

Antioxidants occur naturally in fruits, vegetables, coffee, tea, and of course chocolate. But not all antioxidants are alike. Researchers at the University Hospital of Cologne in Germany decided to see whether the antioxidants known as polyphenols, which are present in cocoa and tea, are effective in lowering blood pressure.

Our favorite food passed the test with flying colors. The researchers reviewed five studies involving a total of 173 participants and focusing on the effects of chocolate on blood pressure. Four out of five of these studies showed positive effects.

Participants who consumed foods rich in cocoa enjoyed a drop in blood pressure comparable to that they would have achieved by taking conventional blood pressure medication.

The researchers also surveyed five studies done on the effect of tea on high blood pressure. No significant reduction of blood pressure was associated with the consumption of black or green tea.

Of course we'd all love to rush to the candy store to celebrate, and of course we should be cautious.

First, the chocolate studies averaged only about two weeks apiece. Therefore, although the studies certainly seem quite promising, they don't tell us much about the long-term effects of chocolate on high blood pressure.

Second, not all chocolate is created equal. Consuming large quantities of chocolate products rich in sugar, fats, and calories on a regular basis doesn't sound like a prescription for general health.

As always, the conclusion seems to be that if you're going to have dessert anyway, you might as well make it a piece of dark chocolate. Darker chocolates -- that is, those with higher cocoa contents and less sugar -- are richer in antioxidants and therefore seem to be the healthiest choice.

But even the darkest, leanest bar out there isn't exactly a calorie-free treat. So enjoy yourself in moderation. Don't boost your daily calorie count -- work within a sensible limit. And don't pile your grocery cart with chocolate-covered goo and rationalize it to yourself by reasoning that, hey, chocolate is good for you. Not like that, it isn't.

Incidentally, there's one question that these studies don't seem to answer: does all this research mean that those suffering from low blood pressure should be cautious when it comes to eating chocolate? Guess we'll have to wait for more tests to answer that one.

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