Want to cut your risk of heart disease in half? Try eating a little chocolate each day. That’s right chocolate lovers, indulge! Consuming moderate amounts of the popular treat is associated with reduced incidence of coronary heart disease (CHD), as reported in a study recently published in the journal Clinical Nutrition. Chocolate – and dark chocolate in particular – contains high amounts of flavonoids, a major class of antioxidant plant chemicals called polyphenols. Previous research points to chocolate flavonoids reducing blood pressure and protecting against cardiovascular disease.
The researchers of this study were interested in determining if regular intake of small amounts of chocolate – even milk chocolate – was associated with a reduced prevalence of coronary heart disease. According to the researchers, while chocolate does contain saturated fat, it is also high in essential minerals such as potassium and magnesium, which could help protect against CHD.
In this study, dietary history was collected from 4,790 participants aged 25-93, 10.9% of whom had coronary heart disease. Participants were previously involved in the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institutes Family Heart Study and were asked about their current regular consumption (from none to six or more times per day) of chocolate candy bars.
They found a 57% lower incidence of CHD in those men and women consuming the highest amounts of chocolate (5x per week) compared to those people who did not consume chocolate at all. The degree of risk reduction was slightly lower among regular chocolate-eaters with the highest intakes of foods rich in saturated fat (e.g., butter, hamburgers and hot dogs), but was still significant nonetheless. Interestingly, they observed the opposite association with regard to non-chocolate candy intake: men and women who consumed non-chocolate candy 5x per week or more had a 49% increased incidence of CHD compared to those reporting no intake of non-chocolate candy. This latter observation appears consistent with previous research, which has linked high sugar intake to increased blood pressure– a risk factor for CHD.
Although this study relied on self-reported levels of chocolate consumption, it did not ask participants to specify the type of chocolate they ate. Furthermore, it is unclear whether participants interpreted the question to include white chocolate, which does not contain any flavonoids or essential minerals owing to the absence of cocoa powder or cocoa liquor. Still, since these types of chocolate contain less flavonoids than dark chocolate, the fact that the researchers still observed a risk reduction when they were included in the results does appear to strengthen their findings.