Sweet! Harvard Medical School through Harvard Health Publications in June of 2015 released a report titled, Sweet dreams: eating chocolate prevents heart disease. Being a bonafide chocoholic that is great news.
A study that was based in England had the following results… middle-aged and older adults who eat up to 3.5 ounces of chocolate a day (that’s more than two standard Hershey bars) seem to have lower rates of heart disease than those who spurn chocolate altogether.
All of the large studies, including the one from Norfolk, are observational studies. That means the researchers asked questions about the participants eating habits, tracked their health, and made statistical connections. These kinds of studies can generate important insights. But they can’t prove cause and effect. It takes a randomized trial to do that.
It’s possible that people who like to eat chocolate do something else that offers heart protection, like eat a wide variety of healthful foods. One of the interesting things about this research is that participants in the non-chocolate group had higher average weight, more artery-damaging inflammation, more diabetes, were less physically active and had diets with the least amount of fat compared to chocolate eaters.
Is Milk Chocolate Okay?
Most of the previous studies on the chocolate-heart connection found that only dark chocolate offered any cardiovascular protection. In the Norfolk study, any type of chocolate, including milk chocolate, seemed to have the same beneficial effect.
Scientists aren’t sure what it is about chocolate that seems to boost heart health. It may be related to flavonoids, a type of antioxidant produced by plants. Flavonoids are found in tea, red wine, blueberries, apples, pears, cherries, and nuts.
Flavonoids are particularly abundant in cacao beans—the seeds of the cacao tree. Fermenting, drying, and roasting cacao beans yields cocoa powder, which is used to make chocolate.
Flavonoids in cocoa have been shown to help lower blood pressure, improve blood flow to the brain and heart, prevent blood clots, and fight cell damage. They’ve also been shown to help thinking skills.
Your best bet is to stick with dark chocolate. As a general rule, it has more cocoa and therefore more flavonoids than milk chocolate. It also has less unhealthy sugar and saturated fat. The higher the cocoa content of the bar, the better it is for your health. Look for bars with 70% cocoa or more.
I think I will stay with an ounce of dark chocolate every so often, with some Chocolate Therapy in between.
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