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Published: Sunday, 8/31/2003

How sweet, and dark, it is

It is definitely not the last word on the subject, but for chocolate lovers it's the right one. A German study - OK, it involved only 13 adults - suggests that eating dark chocolate may lower your blood pressure.

That, of course, leads to another fringe benefit: lessened guilt after scarfing down a chocolate bar on a whim.

But not all chocolate is created equal. Subsequent studies on the health benefits of chocolate largely exclude milk chocolate, the type most commonly used in candy bars. Researchers believe the milk and other dairy products make it difficult for the body to absorb the protective compounds in chocolate. The same diminished effect goes for drinking milk with dark chocolate.

But drinking red wine with a choice morsel might do if you accept the antioxidant hypothesis.

Writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. Dirk Taubert of the University of Cologne concluded that dark chocolate “might serve as a promising approach to reducing systolic blood pressure” (Provided it isn't served too much or too often. Keep in mind those dreaded words: “in moderation”).

Turns out dark chocolate, like red wine, contains polyphenols, ingredients scientists think are good for the heart. The plant substances also have been shown to lower blood pressure in animals.

In the small study, test subjects with untreated mild hypertension replaced their usual consumption of sweets with 3-ounce chocolate bars every day for two weeks. The even trade resulted in no weight gains.

Half of the patients savored white chocolate - which does not contain polyphenols, the other half consumed only dark.

In the end, the white chocolate lovers showed almost no difference in systolic blood pressure - the top number - but the dark chocolate group dropped an average of five points in their readings.

Their diastolic, or lower reading, fell an average of almost two points.

While none of the participants with average blood pressure readings of about 153 over 84 managed to make it into the desirable range - below 120 over 80 - no doubt they relished every bite of the experiment.



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