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Jul 01, 2015

Chocolate Protects Against Heart Disease and Stroke

Moderate chocolate consumption helps, not harms, cardiovascular health.

Daily chocolate consumption may significantly lower risk for heart disease and stroke, according to a study recently published in the British medical journal Heart.

Although it gets a bad rap, chocolate has many redeeming qualities when it comes to our health.  Not only does chocolate contain flavanols and antioxidants that help fight disease, certain types of chocolate contain unsaturated fats, which are good for the heart. But as with most things, moderation is key. Eating too much chocolate can lead to weight gain, and only certain types of chocolate are truly considered heart healthy.

To test the health benefits of chocolate, researchers analyzed data from a UK study called the EPIC–Norfolk cohort. Between 1993 and 1997, nearly 21,000 men and women joined the study, providing information about their diet, exercise and overall health. Regarding chocolate consumption, subjects reported the type of chocolate they typically ate, ranging anywhere from a cup of hot chocolate to a chocolate bar. Participants also shared their average portion size and how often they consumed chocolate, ranging from never to 6 or more times a day.

After following participants for more than 11 years, researchers found that adults with the highest chocolate consumption (up to 99 g/day) had 23% lower risk of stroke and 14% lower risk of heart disease than those that didn’t eat chocolate. A second analysis of nine studies with more than 157,000 participants also confirmed that higher chocolate consumption reduced risk of heart disease, stroke and death.

Of course, authors point out that other factors may play a role in the association between chocolate consumption and reduced heart risks. Overall, individuals consuming moderate amounts of chocolate on a regular basis tended to be healthier than those reporting no chocolate consumption. It’s possible that while chocolate consumption may play a role in promoting good health, factors like body weight and exercise may also influence outcomes.

Still, findings suggest that eating moderate amounts of chocolate on a regular basis may help protect against heart disease and stroke. Contrary to what we may think, chocolate doesn’t need to be avoided in order to promote good health. The key is to watch portion size, choose chocolates that are minimally processed and avoid fillings like caramel that are high in calories and unhealthy fats.

Questions for You to Consider

  • Are all types of chocolate good for your heart?
  • It is important to note that not all chocolates are created equal! In general, the best chocolates for your heart are ones that are the least processed and contain the greatest levels of flavanols and cocoa powder.

  • How does chocolate improve cardiovascular health?
  • Although the exact relationship is unclear, many suggest that the antioxidants and flavanols found in cocoa and chocolate help resist damage to the heart over time. Furthermore, certain types of “good” fats such as oleic acid, most commonly found in olive oil, may help protect the heart and control cholesterol levels.

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