Just in time for your Easter egg hunt, more news that chocolate is good for you. A report out just this week from the German Institute of Human Nutrition in Potsdam confirmed that people consuming chocolate on a regular basis had lower rates of heart attack and stroke. The study was impressive in scope, monitoring nearly twenty thousand subjects over a ten-year period, after a dietary assessment at the beginning. It was part of a large project called the European Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition. Those in the top chocolate consumption group had 40% fewer heart attacks and strokes over the course of the study as compared to the low chocolate consumers. A reduction in blood pressure was identified as the reason.
It has been known for some time that compounds called polyphenols, found in both chocolate and wine, are able to relax blood vessels and thereby lower blood pressure. A study from the Institute of Food Safety in the Netherlands (why are the Europeans having all the fun with wine and chocolate studies?) identified exactly how this occurs. A molecule called Nitric Oxide, or NO, is the chemical signal for blood vessels to relax, and certain compounds from wine and chocolate have the specific ability to stimulate NO release. Among these are resveratrol (from wine) and compounds in a family of molecules called catechins, from both wine and chocolate.
These molecules are in much higher quantities in dark chocolate and red wine, so the chocolate eggs in your Easter basket might not be the best way to get the health benefits. Go for something dark and leave the milk chocolate goodies for the kids. And my recommendation for the wine with your ham (a problem match because of the saltiness) is Grenache.