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Chocolate is good for your soul. There is also evidence that it is good for your heart. Now, research published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology suggests that cocoa flavanols in chocolate—naturally occurring compounds found in foods like apples, tea, and cocoa—could be good for kidneys, too.

Researchers from the University Hospital Essen in Germany used a group of 57 patients that were being treated for kidney problems. The patients were given either a test beverage with cocoa flavanols, or a similar control beverage lacking cocoa flavanols. After 30 days, the patients who consumed a test beverage with cocoa flavanols demonstrated improved circulation and lower blood pressure in between heartbeats compared to the group that did not consume cocoa flavanols.

These improvements were equivalent to the benefits of larger-scale changes to diet and lifestyle. Essentially, eating chocolate could be a shortcut to getting the same benefits as a more difficult lifestyle change.

 Chocolate comes from the cacao bean, which has compounds that are good for people.

Image Source: Pierre Yves-Babelon

The flavanols in cocoa and dark chocolate are a type of flavonoid, a nutrient made by plants. Different types of flavanoids also occur in red wine and tea. In 2013, the European Food Safety Commission issued a claim supporting the idea that cocoa flavanoids help maintain the elasticity of blood vessels, which helps people keep a healthy blood pressure.

Since individuals with kidney problems also have a higher risk of heart problems, improving one organ might also improve the other. This correlation stems from the major role in the body played by both organs: a weakened heart means increased blood pressure and less oxygenated blood delivered to the kidneys. The relationship works both ways too. A weakened kidney forces the heart to work harder to increase blood supply to the kidney, increasing stress on the heart. Since heart disease is such a problem for patients with kidney problems, a potential countermeasure like cocoa flavanols, which could have the same benefits as more challenging lifestyle or diet changes, might be worth further research.

Only a small amount of the right kind of chocolate could be enough. The serving of cocoa flavanols administered to the patients in the study, 900 mg, is approximately 2.5 grams of high-flavanol cocoa powder and 10 grams of high-flavanol dark chocolate. The value of different chocolate bars will depend on the ingredients.

So next time before you eat that Hershey’s chocolate bar, consider the benefits of flavanols—on blood pressure, heart health and kidney health. Maybe you’ll find that the benefits of flavanols in the darker chocolate bar next to it will be a more attractive choice.

Feature Image Source: Day 141 – September 30, 2012 by Sonia Belviso

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