You are receiving this valuable information from Academy Partner:

As part of the Academy's Corporate Relations sponsorship program, the HERSHEY CENTER FOR HEALTH & NUTRITION supports Academy members in creating and disseminating nutrition messages that improve the nation's health.

In this newsletter and those that follow, we will share the latest studies coming from the Center as well as relevant news and trends concerning the health benefits associated with natural cocoa and dark chocolate. Our goal is to be a resource for you on how to enjoy natural cocoa and dark chocolate as part of a balanced lifestyle.

We want to start by taking a brief look at the developments over the last year that generated buzz about the potential health benefits of natural cocoa and dark chocolate.

This is a one-time only email. Your email address will not be stored for additional communications or shared with other organizations. If you would like to receive HERSHEY CENTER FOR HEALTH & NUTRITION's quarterly e-newsletter, please subscribe here.

Cocoa and Heart Health: A Hot Topic

Recently, natural cocoa and dark chocolate have become hot topics in the news. Coverage told the story of how regular intake of natural cocoa and dark chocolate may lead to benefits such as improved blood flow and cardiovascular health. To view some of these recent articles and studies, visit our press page.

The health benefits of natural cocoa and dark chocolate have been documented in more than 250 studies to date. Many of these studies point to the positive effects natural cocoa and dark chocolate can have on heart health. For example:

  • A 2011 dose response study in the Journal of Applied Physiology indicated that consuming approximately one tablespoon of natural cocoa improves blood flow by approximately 25 percent in healthy older adults 2 hours after drinking a hot beverage made with natural cocoa. This study was funded by the Center and used natural cocoa.
  • A 2007 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that eating a small piece of dark chocolate (~6 grams, about the amount found in a HERSHEY'S BLISS Dark Chocolate) every day significantly reduced blood pressure after 12 and 18 weeks.

As the research to support these claims builds, the scientific and medical communities are starting to recognize the cardiovascular benefits of natural cocoa.

Did You Know?

  • The heart health benefits come from natural cocoa powder that is produced by pressing most of the fat (cocoa butter) from the cocoa bean.
  • Cocoa beans are not actually beans, they are the seeds of the fruit of the cocoa tree—a concentrated source of nutrients.
  • Cocoa beans are sources of polyphenolic compounds called flavanols, which occur naturally in many fruits and vegetables.
  • Natural cocoa powder is considered a “super fruit” due to its antioxidant activity and flavanol content. Recent research suggests that cocoa powder has significantly higher flavanol levels than other popular super fruit powders such as pomegranate, cranberry, acai and blueberry.
  • Natural cocoa contains more than 700 phytonutrient compounds, some of which research is just beginning to uncover.

How Natural Cocoa and Dark Chocolate Contribute to Heart Health

Overall, research points to a variety of potential cardiovascular health benefits attributed to natural cocoa and dark chocolate. These include reductions in blood pressure and blood cholesterol, as well as improved blood flow. Read a brief overview of some of the studies examining these heart health benefits.

Despite the potential benefits, it is still important to remember that natural cocoa and dark chocolate's heart health properties are best realized when eaten in moderation as part of a balanced diet.

Cholesterol Levels

A meta-analysis of 10 clinical trials published last year in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that consuming polyphenol-rich dark chocolate or cocoa products may reduce total and LDL cholesterol levels (low-density lipoprotein cholesterol is associated with increased risk of heart disease), but had no effect on HDL cholesterol levels (high-density lipoproteins supporting protection against heart disease). The researchers reported that short-term consumption of dark chocolate reduced total cholesterol by 6.23 mg/dL and LDL was reduced on average by 5.9 mg/dL. They also noted that the effect appeared to be greater when cocoa polyphenols were consumed from dark chocolate rather than a cocoa beverage.

Blood Pressure

Last year, an article in Current Cardiovascular Risk Reports stated that recent meta-analyses show strong evidence that high-flavonoid cocoa intake lowers systolic (SBP) and diastolic blood pressure (DBP). One study showed that dark chocolate (50–70% cacao), compared to cocoa-free controls, or high-flavanol cocoa compared to low-flavanol cocoa, lowered blood pressure (−3.2 mmHg SBP, −2.0 mmHg DBP). The results were consistent across dose, quality, duration of trials and population demographics, thus indicating that the results may have important implications for public health. In addition, according to another meta-analysis published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, cocoa consumption reduced hypertension in an amount equivalent to antihypertensive medications. The researchers at the University Hospital of Cologne stated that cocoa's hypertensive effects are clinically noteworthy since similar results are achieved with monotherapy of beta-blockers or angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors.

Weight Loss

According to a randomized, clinical study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, overweight and obese women who followed an energy-restricted dietary pattern that included energy-controlled and portion-controlled sweet snacks achieved body weight loss over a short-term period. All participants who followed this reduced-calorie diet and incorporated a dark chocolate snack or a non-chocolate snack maintained an energy deficit, lost a significant amount of weight and saw an improvement in body composition. The researchers stressed the importance of increased education about controlling sweet snack portions and how they contribute to overall daily energy intake.



The HERSHEY CENTER FOR HEALTH & NUTRITION sponsors cutting-edge research on the health benefits of cocoa, chocolate, nuts and other ingredients, especially regarding the cardiovascular benefits of natural cocoa. The Center is designed to be a significant source of new product innovation as it draws upon clinical studies and scientific analyses to help encourage balanced living through moderation.

The HERSHEY CENTER FOR HEALTH & NUTRITION is part of The Hershey Company's holistic, lifestyle and science-based approach to support consumer well-being. For more information about the Center, visit their website at:


  • Monahan KD, et al. Dose-dependent increases in flow-mediated dilation following acute cocoa ingestion in healthy older adults. J Appl Physiol. 2011;111:1568-74.
  • Taubert D, et al. Effects of low habitual cocoa intake on blood pressure and bioactive nitric oxide: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2007;298:49-60.
  • Tokede OA, et al. Effects of cocoa products/dark chocolate on serum lipids: a meta-analysis. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2011;65:879-86.
  • Bauer S, et al. Cocoa consumption, cocoa flavonoids, and effects on cardiovascular risk factors: an evidence-based review. Current Cardiovas Risk Reports. 2011;5:120-127
  • Taubert D, et al. Effect of cocoa and tea intake on blood pressure: a meta-analysis. Arch Intern Med. 2007;167:626-34.
  • Piehowski KE, et al. A reduced-calorie dietary pattern including a daily sweet snack promotes body weight reduction and body composition improvements in premenopausal women who are overweight and obese: a pilot study. J Am Diet Assoc. 2011;111:1198-203.