Guest article by Sam Hadadi,
Chocolate Linked to Lower Risk of Heart Disease and Stroke
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.”
Why Is Chocolate Good For Us?
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:
- Chocolate loves our heart. In a 9-year Swedish study2 of women, those who ate one or two servings of dark chocolate each week slashed their risk for heart failure by as much as a third. Why? It’s all thanks to those clever flavonoids, disease-busting antioxidant compounds that increase the flexibility of veins and arteries.
- Aids weight loss. Yep, dieters around the world can celebrate – chocolate can help us to lose weight! Researchers have found that dark chocolate is filling, and helps us to stay feeling more satisfied than the milk varieties. It also lessens cravings for sweet, salty, and fatty foods, making you more likely to stay on track.
- Chocolate busts stress. Swiss scientists2 had anxious people eat an ounce and a half of dark chocolate every day for two weeks. By the end, their stress hormone levels plummeted. The moral of the story? When you’re sad, reach for the chocolate!
- Boosts brain power. Our superfood friend can even make us smarter! Who knew? A study2 by the University of Nottingham found that drinking cocoa (rich in flavanols) boosts blood flow to the brain for 2 to 3 hours, which can boost performance in the short-term.
- Relieve symptoms of depression3. Dark chocolate can help the body to produce that happy chemical, serotonin. Eat to instantly improve that mood and ease stress!
Does It Matter What Chocolate We Eat?
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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