Q. I've heard that dark chocolate helps lower blood pressure. Can this great news be true?
A. It’s true that some research suggests cocoa may help lower blood pressure. It appears that a compound in cocoa, called epicatechin, boosts nitric oxide, a substance that has been shown to be crucial to healthy blood vessels. Plentiful levels of nitric oxide help keep blood pressure from climbing. These findings probably aren’t a reason to start eating chocolate if you don’t already. You’ll get many of the same disease-fighting substances drinking tea or wine and eating fruits and vegetables, which are loaded with antioxidants. Chocolate, because it is relatively high in fat and is usually sweetened with sugar, does pack a fair amount of calories. A 1.5-ounce bar of dark chocolate contains about 225 calories—enough to make it a special treat, not a regular food group. (And be sure to choose dark chocolate, ideally one that’s 70 percent cocoa solids; milk chocolate lacks significant levels of epicatechin.)