New research out of Europe makes an excellent argument for eating more chocolate cake—better heart health. Scientists at the European Society of Cardiology recently identified two key ingredients—dark chocolate and extra virgin olive oil—as having a powerful effect on the heart health of volunteer subjects, all of whom had some form of cardiovascular risk, such as smoking, hypertension, or family history.
During the 28-day study, a panel of 26 subjects (14 men and 12 women) with at least three cardiovascular risk factors were given 40 grams of dark chocolate a day. For 14 days, the chocolate contained 10 percent extra virgin olive oil and for another 14 days, it contained 2.5 percent Italian Pania red apple. Each of the three ingredients in the study was chosen for their known antioxidant properties.
“Fruits and vegetables exert their protective effects through plant polyphenols, which are found in cocoa, olive oil, and apples,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Rossella Di Stefano. “Research has found that the Italian Panaia red apple has very high levels of polyphenols and antioxidants."
At the end of the study, researchers found that the olive oil-enriched chocolate was linked with several indicators of an improved heart health profile—specifically, higher levels of endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs) which are essential for vascular repair and cellular function and lowered risk for atherosclerosis, a condition in which plaque builds up in the arteries and eventually cuts the flow of blood to your organs, which can lead to heart attacks, strokes, and death.
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The dark chocolate and olive oil combination was also responsible for a significant increase in HDL, or good cholesterol, and decreased blood pressure compared to the start of the study. Because every member of the study received the dark chocolate and olive oil regimen during either the first or second portion of the study, it was easy to identify the more robust cardiovascular effects of this treatment compared to the dark chocolate and apple.
"We found that small daily portions of dark chocolate with added natural polyphenols from extra virgin olive oil was associated with an improved cardiovascular risk profile,” Dr. DiStefano said. “Our study suggests that extra virgin olive oil might be a good food additive to help preserve our 'repairing cells', the EPC.”
Which brings us to the call to action: it’s time to bake something nice and chocolatey, with some extra virgin olive oil.