If you’re a chocolate lover, you’re probably well aware of research that suggests it has important health benefits, mostly through improving heart health. After all, who doesn’t want to justify their chocolate addiction, in the name of longevity? But what "does" of daily chocolate, is healthiest?
Past studies have suggested that the greatest benefit from chocolate comes with the highest concentration of cocoa, which contains flavanols, a form of flavonoid. Flavanols act as antioxidants, mopping up damaging free radicals that are produced during cell metabolism. They can also reduce resistance to insulin, and make blood vessels more elastic, reducing blood pressure. Since flavanols can be destroyed through processing, some researchers recommend eating less-processed chocolate, and have advocated labeling cocoa products indicating flavanol levels.
How much chocolate should you be eating, before its advantages are cancelled out by overindulgence? Advice like ‘only a bit each day’, or ‘not too much’, is not really that instructive.
Suggestions for a concrete number of grams or ounces are hard to come by. A 2010 German study of nearly 20,000 people, followed over a period of eight years, did conclude that those who ate an average of 6 grams of chocolate per day, or 0.2 oz, had a 39 per cent lower risk of heart attack or stroke. That’s a very small amount of chocolate, perhaps only half a single square of a typical 100g dark chocolate bar. Interestingly, this study included dark, and milk, chocolate.
Other studies have looked primarily at how often people eat chocolate, rather than the amount they consume. A 2011 review of seven research studies, (including the German paper, above) involving a total of about 114,000 subjects in Europe, Asia, and North America, found a 37 per cent lower risk in developing cardiovascular disease, a 31 per cent reduction in risk of diabetes, and 29 per cent reduction in risk of stroke, among subjects who ate chocolate the most often (more than twice a week). This review, from the University of Cambridge, included chocolate from all sources, including chocolate bars, drinks, and snacks, and did not distinguish between dark, or milk, chocolate.
Despite the beneficial effect of different sources of chocolate in their study, the Cambridge researchers warn against consuming too much of this energy-dense food. Even if it’s “healthy” chocolate, if you eat more calories than your body can burn off, you will gain weight. Obesity puts you at greater risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, all of which can shorten your life, whether you are male, or female.
It seems a little chocolate goes a long way, in helping you to live longer.
Adriana Buitrago-Lopez et al. “Chocolate Consumption and Cardiometabolic Disorders: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. BMJ 2011;343:d4488. http://www.bmj.com/content/343/bmj.d4488
Brian Buijsse et al. Chocolate consumption in relation to blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular disease in German adults. Eur Heart Journal 2010;31:1616-23. http://eurheartj.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2010/03/18/eurheartj.ehq068.full
Claims About Cocoa. US National Institutes of Health Information Sheet. Accessed January 27,2011.http://newsinhealth.nih.gov/issue/aug2011/feature1