Eating chocolate to relieve stress may also be good for your heart

Many people turn to chocolate as a stress reliever and that may be a good thing, at least based on a new study from the University of Birmingham. The researchers found that consuming high levels of flavonols — which are found in cocoa and many other plant foods — while experiencing stress may help protect the cardiovascular system.

Flavanols are a plant chemical that can be found in a variety of fruit and vegetables, including cacao beans, grapes, berries, tea, and more. Many studies have linked flavanols to various potential health benefits, including improved cardiovascular and cognitive function.

Cacao beans — from which cocoa and chocolate are made — are particularly high in flavanols, which may offer a protective effect when consumed during times of mental stress, according to the latest study. The findings are based on a study involving a high-flavanol cocoa drink given to healthy participants 90 minutes before performing a task that would induce mental stress.

The researchers found that the participants had better blood vessel function after consuming the cocoa drink, including improved blood flow while stressed. Of course, the key aspect here is that the drink had a high flavonol concentration, meaning eating an ordinary milk chocolate bar may not offer the same benefits.

Despite that, the researchers note that flavonols are found in a variety of foods and that adding them to one's diet could make it possible to hit the ideal dosage every day.

The study's lead author Dr. Catarina Rendeiro explained:

Our findings are significant for everyday diet, given that the daily dosage administered could be achieved by consuming a variety of foods rich in flavanols – particularly apples, black grapes, blackberries, cherries, raspberries, pears, pulses, green tea and unprocessed cocoa. This has important implications for measures to protect the blood vessels of those individuals who are more vulnerable to the effects of mental stress.