How olive oil and chocolate keep your arteries clear

Perfect food pairings are what life’s all about…

Beans and franks. Chips and dip. Mac and cheese. Peanut butter and jelly. Spaghetti and meatballs.

I’m getting hungry just thinking about it!

Of course, not all of these food pairings make for a healthy meal. But there is another perfect food pairing that fits the bill in that regard…

Not only will this delicious duo invigorate your taste buds, it will invigorate your heart health too…

So what is it?

Dark chocolate and olive oil, that’s what.

I know that sounds like a strange combo, but if you give it a shot, you’ll be surprised just how delicious these two foods are together.

And when it comes to boosting your heart health, these two superfoods may just be the perfect pair…

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Olive oil and chocolate protect your heart

Researchers from the University of Pisa, Italy recently discovered that adding a dash of extra virgin olive oil to your daily dose of dark chocolate does wonders for your heart health.

They conducted a study that included men and women with at least three risk factors for heart disease (things like smoking, abnormal amounts of lipids in their blood, hypertension, a family history of cardiovascular disease, etc.)

They gave these people a serving of dark chocolate for 28 days straight. But this wasn’t plain old chocolate. It was infused with one of two foods — extra virgin olive oil or the Panaia red apple (an ancient apple variety rich in bioactive compounds).

Now, scientists already know that plant polyphenols (like those found abundantly in dark chocolate, olive oil and the Panaia red apple — as well as a variety of berries) are great for your heart health. These antioxidant compounds protect your body from free radicals and help prevent a long list of diseases, including heart disease. But they wanted to see just which polyphenol-rich pair was most powerful.

And dark chocolate combined with extra virgin olive oil came out on top.

Researchers found that eating dark chocolate enriched with extra virgin olive oil significantly increased the number of endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs) circulating in the body. These cells not only help repair your vascular system, they keep your endothelium (the lining of your blood vessels) operating properly.

The olive oil-infused dark chocolate also increased HDL (good) cholesterol, lowered blood pressure and decreased levels of compounds known as carnitine and hippurate, which are tied to metabolic changes that are bad for your heart.

All these changes show that when study participants ate dark chocolate enriched with olive oil daily, they were also slowing or preventing the deadly process known as atherosclerosis (the narrowing of the arteries due to plaque build-up), which means much better heart health in the long run.

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Embracing olive oil-infused chocolate

Trying to figure out how to fit more dark chocolate and olive oil into your diet?

Well, the easiest way is to buy an olive oil-infused dark chocolate bar.

Yes, they do exist… although they may not be easy to find. And you’ll always want to check the label to make sure the one you buy contains 70 percent cacao content and no artificial ingredients. Here’s one you can buy online (although it comes with a steep price tag).

In the study, people ate about 40 grams of dark chocolate per day, so you should shoot for a similar amount. Most conventional-sized chocolate bars are 100 grams, so that’s a little less than half a bar per day.

Of course, you can also get creative with this powerhouse food pairing. There are some unexpected yet delicious ways to eat dark chocolate and extra virgin olive oil together (especially if you’re in the mood for a decadent dessert that still has some health benefits) like:

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Sources:

  1. Dark chocolate with olive oil associated with improved cardiovascular risk profile.” — MedicalXpress. Retrieved September 7, 2017.
  2. B. Pandey and S.I. Rizvi. “Plant polyphenols as dietary antioxidants in human health and disease.” — Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. 2009 Nov-Dec; 2(5): 270–278.

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Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.