Chocolate for blood pressure? Oh, yeah, baby!

4 Oct

While at my chiropractor last month, I came across an article in a medical magazine about chocolate and blood pressure. When I got home, I went to work on the internet searching for additional information on the studies described in the article.

The article was about the Kuna Indians living on the coastal islands of Panama. The Kuna people who live on their native islands have basically no incidence of high blood pressure. Even after age 60, their blood pressure remains around 110/70. In addition, they have very few cases of heart disease, diabetes and cancer. But the Kuna who move to mainland Panama, and adapt a diet similar to the typical American diet, have incidences of high blood pressure and heart disease comparable to those among Americans.

So how do the islanders stay so healthy? Apparently, they drink 4 to 5 cups of hot cocoa each day! Cocoa is very rich in heart-protective flavanoids. One thing these flavanoids do is help the body produce more nitric oxide, which allows the blood vessels to relax and blood to flow more easily, thus lowering blood pressure.

There are tons of studies mentioned on the internet, all of them leading to the same conclusion: cocoa is extremely good for you. In addition to a naturally-rich supply of antioxidants, cocoa is high in fiber and is one of the highest sources of magnesium, which is proven to be beneficial in controlling blood pressure. It is also a good source of the B-complex vitamins and vitamins C, D and E.

But, don’t get too excited — yet. The hot cocoa available on grocery store shelves is not even close to the high-flavanoid cocoa the Kuna drink. To please the American palate, manufacturers add sugar, milk, high fructose corn syrup, and even artificial colors to cocoa after fermenting, roasting and Dutch processing it. All of which leads to an enormous drop in the amount of flavanoids left in it. Even the “pure” cocoa powder we have available for baking has been roasted and over processed, leaving little, if any, of the heart-protective flavanoids. The Kuna people grow their own cocoa beans, gently roast them or dry them in the sun and then grind them into a powder used to make the cocoa drink. Very few flavanoids are lost in the process.

The closest thing I could come up with to mimic their cocoa was organic raw cacao powder. This is simply cocoa beans that have been ground into a powder. The beans have been cold-pressed and processed at very low temperatures to maintain the nutrients. In addition, the brand I purchased at my local health food store is “sourced directly from farmers” and is “cultivated sustainably and in accordance with fair trade practices.” Now you can get excited!

Though the packaging doesn’t list an exact amount of flavanoids per serving, it does provide some impressive nutritional info on the label — one ounce of the powder, which is about 4 tablespoons, is only 120 calories and 2.5 grams of fat, but has an impressive 7 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein! I’m consuming one ounce of this cocoa powder per day, divided into two servings. I make two different drinks with it — a smoothie and a cup of hot chocolate. The hot chocolate is simply some heated almond milk with raw cocoa powder and stevia mixed in. It’s a really good bedtime snack. The other drink I make is a cocoa smoothie with bananas. Sometimes I have it with lunch and sometimes with breakfast. Since bananas are high in potassium, they’re also a smart choice for keeping that blood pressure down.

Here’s the recipe for my smoothie. Add more ice if you want a thicker drink, and adjust the sweetness to your own tastes. I use stevia because it’s calorie free, but use whatever sweetener you like best.

BP-Lowering Smoothie
makes 1 serving

6 ice cubes
1 ripe banana, broken into 5 or 6 pieces
2 tablespoons raw cacao powder
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon liquid stevia (or to taste)
1/2 cup plain So Delicious coconut milk (or other milk substitute)

Place items in blender in order as listed above. Blend until smooth and frothy. Pour into a glass and enjoy!

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