Another Reason to Enjoy Chocolate? Your Heart

The plant chemicals in chocolate may help ward off high blood pressure, heart disease, and more.

a tableau of various forms of dark chocolate

Updated on March 10, 2022.

You’ve probably heard that chocolate can be good for your health. But do you know how?

Chocolate may reduce your risk of cardiometabolic disorders, a group of diseases that includes type 2 diabetes and heart disease. There’s plenty of evidence that you can reduce your risk for these issues with the help of exercise, diet, and medication. And it appears chocolate may be able to help.

The science behind chocolate

In a 2017 paper published in Nutrients, researchers gathered results from 14 studies of chocolate consumption and the risks for coronary heart disease, stroke, and/or diabetes. They found lower risks of all three diseases among people who ate moderate amounts of chocolate—roughly two 30-gram servings a week. (Eating more than that didn’t seem to result in more benefits.)

That paper echoed earlier research results, including a headline-making 2011 study published in BMJ that analyzed seven studies involving over 100,000 people. That one found that eating chocolate was associated with a reduction in the risk of heart disease by 37 percent and stroke by 29 percent versus eating little or none. In addition, one of the seven studies found a link between chocolate and a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.

The healthy element in chocolate

What's in chocolate that makes it so good for you? Loads of potent plant antioxidants called polyphenols, including flavonoids, also known as flavanols. Those are the same good-for-you substances found in blueberries, wine, green tea, and olive oil, as well as in other colorful fruits and vegetables and whole grains.

Among the many powers of polyphenols is the ability to tamp down inflammation in your body. Excess inflammation has been linked to all kinds of trouble, from memory damage to joint pain and accelerated aging.

A little goes a long way

An ounce of healthy dark chocolate (70 to 85 percent cacao) contains about 170 calories, including lots of sugar and fat. Overdo and you could potentially increase the health risks you're trying to prevent. So try enjoying an ounce every two or three days. A 100-gram bar of dark chocolate broken into squares can last you a week or more, making this treat an economical as well as a healthy one. That’s sweet.

Article sources open article sources

Buitrago-Lopez A, Sanderson J, Johnson L, et al. Chocolate consumption and cardiometabolic disorders: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ. 2011;343:d4488. Published 2011 Aug 26.
de Waard AM, Hollander M, Korevaar JC, et al. Selective prevention of cardiometabolic diseases: activities and attitudes of general practitioners across Europe. Eur J Public Health. 2019;29(1):88-93.
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The Nutrition Source: Dark Chocolate. Accessed March 9, 2022.
Yuan S, Li X, Jin Y, Lu J. Chocolate Consumption and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease, Stroke, and Diabetes: A Meta-Analysis of Prospective Studies. Nutrients. 2017;9(7):688. Published 2017 Jul 2. doi:10.3390/nu9070688
García LC, Hernández ANM. Beneficial effects of cocoa and dark chocolate polyphenols on health. The FASEB Journal. 2020. 34: 1-1.
Katz DL, Doughty K, Ali A. Cocoa and chocolate in human health and disease. Antioxid Redox Signal. 2011;15(10):2779-2811. doi:10.1089/ars.2010.3697
Walker KA, Gottesman RF, Wu A, et al. Systemic inflammation during midlife and cognitive change over 20 years: The ARIC Study. Neurology. 2019;92(11):e1256-e1267.
United States Department of Agriculture FoodData Central. Chocolate, dark, 70-85% cacao solids. April 1, 2019.

 

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