Guest article by Sam Hadadi,
If you’re anything like us, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever need an excuse to devour more chocolate.
From a delicious cup of warmed cacao with almond milk to rich, raw chocolate bars, we’re always finding new ways to get our chocolate fix.
Thankfully, fellow chocoholics can rejoice. A recent study has revealed that eating up to 100g of chocolate per day (yep, that’s a fairly big bar!) can lower our risk of heart disease and stroke.
The study, published online in the journal Heart, looked at almost 21,000 in the EPIC-Norfolk study, which tracks the impact of diet on the long-term health of 25,000 men and women in Norfolk. The clever science bods also reviewed all available evidence on the links between chocolate and cardiovascular disease.
During the study, the EPIC-Norfolk participants (9,214 men and 11,737 women) were tracked for almost 12 years, during which time 3,013 (14%) people experienced either a fatal or non-fatal heart problem or stroke.
Around one in five (20%) participants said they did not eat any chocolate. However, among those who did, daily consumption averaged 7g, with some eating up to 100g.
Happily for us chocolate lovers, the more chocolate that was consumed, the healthier the patients were. The chocoholics were associated with younger age and lower weight (BMI), as well as a healthier waist: hip ratio.
Compared with those who ate no chocolate, higher intake was also linked to an 11% lower risk of cardiovascular disease and a 25% lower risk of associated death. It also pointed to a 9% lower risk of hospital admission or death as a result of coronary heart disease.
Moreover, among the 16,000 people whose inflammatory protein (CRP) level was measured, those eating the most chocolate had an 18% lower risk than those who ate the least. More chocolatey goodness was also linked to a 23% lower risk of stroke.
The results were similar in studies beyond this, too. Out of the nine relevant studies, five found a significantly lower risk of heart disease and stroke when lots of chocolate was consumed.
Of course, this was simply an observational study, so no precise conclusions about cause and effect can be made. Plus, the researchers have since pointed out that food frequency questionnaires involve some recall bias and underestimation of items eaten.
In spite of this, they said: "Cumulative evidence suggests that higher chocolate intake is associated with a lower risk of future cardiovascular events."
So, why the impressive results? Well, researchers believe that eating more chocolate was associated with higher energy intake, as well as a diet containing more fat and carbs and less protein and alcohol.
However, chocolate – especially the rich, dark kind – is often associated with heaps of health benefits. The secret behind this nutritional powerhouse is cacao, which is jam-packed with nutrients and goodies such as flavonoids and theobromine. Other scientists1 have also praised the bacteria in the tummy that gobble up the chocolate and transform it into anti-inflammatory wonders.
Yet, what we can happily conclude is this: chocolate isn’t necessarily a junk food! It can boost us in so many ways, including:
Sweet, rich and delicious, what’s not to love about anything that gives us all the more reason to love chocolate? Here at Lucy Bee, we are jumping for joy!
However, can we reach for any old bar to see the results? Is it important to go for darker, higher percentage cocoa bars, or can we tuck into good old Dairy Milk too?
Well, researchers who analysed the Norfolk study pointed out that as milk chocolate – thought to be less 'healthy' than dark chocolate - was more frequently eaten by the EPIC-Norfolk participants, the health benefits may extend to this type of chocolate too.
Researchers said: "This may indicate that not only flavonoids, but also other compounds, possibly related to milk constituents, such as calcium and fatty acids, may provide an explanation for the observed association.”
However, most of the other health benefits in chocolate (like those we listed earlier) have been found to be in dark chocolate alone. If in doubt, grab that bar of 70% (or more) cocoa and enjoy!
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Sam Hadadi is an ex-BBC journalist and now a freelance writer specialising in fitness and food.