High blood pressure: Lifestyle changes to reduce reading
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Dr Michael Mosley discussed the different health benefits of chocolate in his BBC Radio 4 podcast. The doctor explained that drinking hot cocoa can be great for your blood pressure as you age. Here’s how to make sure you get the right cocoa and the science behind how it helps.
“We would all like some quick and simple ways to improve our health but we’re bombarded with often conflicting advice,” the Just One Thing host said.
He said if you are to do just one thing to improve your health it should be “awesome” dark chocolate to help your heart.
The doctor confesses to having a bit of a sweet tooth so he doesn’t normally have sugary treats at home to prevent himself from indulging in them.
But for the podcast, he made a healthy exception for dark chocolate: “I’m allowing myself just one thing that should not only satisfy my cravings but may even lower my blood pressure, improve my cardiovascular health and perhaps even boost my brain.”
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What is the evidence behind drinking hot cocoa?
Dr Mosley said: “Some of the excitement about dark chocolate came from a discovery related to the Guna people, who live off the coast of Panama.
“Population studies found that unlike most of us their blood pressure doesn’t go up with age. One theory is that this is because the Guna people drink a lot of unsweetened cocoa, up to five cups a day.”
The doctor said the “dark stuff” is the healthy option when it comes to chocolate because of its rich flavonoid content.
He snacked on a 85 percent dark chocolate while saying: “I can really smell that high concentration of cocoa full of flavonoids, a nutrient found in certain plants which may explain why eating dark chocolate is so much healthier.”
Dr Mosley then spoke to Professor Aedin Cassidy, Director of Interdisciplinary Research at Queen’s University Belfast, about the scientific evidence linked to flavonoids in cocoa.
“The key element in chocolate seems to be these flavonoid compounds called flavonols that are present particularly in cocoa,” explained Cassidy.
“There have been over 42 trials specifically on cocoa flavonols, where they have consistently shown benefits in terms of blood pressure reduction, improvements in blood flow, improvements in insulin and in cholesterol levels.”
The podcast host explained the “golden rule” when it comes to choosing the right chocolate: “The darker the chocolate, the more bitter the chocolate, the higher the levels of these plant compounds.”
This means you should opt for the stuff with a high cocoa percentage. The professor from Queen’s University suggested around 40 to 50 percent should be enough.
But if you can handle a higher cocoa content, opt for the really dark stuff as the evidence suggests that this is particularly rich in flavonoids.
If you need more convincing about the health benefits of this drink, Dr Mosley talked about another study.
“A recent study done in Italy, where 90 older adults were asked to consume a special high flavonoid cocoa drink, saw improvements in their blood pressure, insulin resistance and their cognition,” he said.
How to get the right amount of flavonols?
The Guna people drank around five cups of cocoa a day. Professor Cassidy said epidemiological data suggest three to five times a week or a few squares a day should be the optimal amount.
In case you’re not a fan of hot cocoa, you’d be pleased to know that cocoa powder isn’t the only thing high in flavonols.
Apples, red wine and tea also do the trick according to the guest professor on Just One Thing.
“Compared to a 50-gram chocolate bar, you’d get the same number of flavonols in three apples, tablespoon of cocoa powder, three small glasses of red wine, or a large mug of tea,” Cassidy added.
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