Why Our Hearts Love Chocolate

Good news for chocolate lovers! According to a new German study, a small daily serving of chocolate helps lower blood pressure and decreases risk of cardiovascular disease.  The study, published in European Heart Journal, analyzed diets of nearly 20,000 people over eight years and found that those who ate the most chocolate had a 40 percent lower risk of heart attack or stroke compared to those who ate the least chocolate.  Specifically, those who ate the most chocolate had an average intake of just six grams of chocolate daily — the equivalent of one small square of a chocolate bar.

Besides being a delicious snack, the American Heart Association has long recommended dark chocolate as a heart-healthy food since it contributes to overall health by reducing stress on the heart.  The benefit comes from cocoa, which contains powerful antioxidant compounds called flavonoids, which help prevent oxidative damage to LDL (“bad”) cholesterol in our arteries that may lead to blockages over time; inhibit blood platelet aggregation that can lead to stroke; and dilate blood vessels, which can reduce blood pressure.   Chocolate also contains a high amount of magnesium, a mineral which helps the heart stabilize rhythm.  So besides being delicious, chocolate packs some serious nutritional power in a small serving.

Unlike previous research which has linked dark chocolate in particular with cardiovascular benefits due to its higher cocoa content, this recent study didn’t differentiate between dark chocolate and milk chocolate; six grams of either contain about 140 calories, 2 grams fat, and 3 grams of sugar. Of course, these delicious results do come with a warning. Study authors note that however beneficial, adding chocolate to the diet must not increase an one’s overall calorie consumption in a manner that leads to weight gain, so indulge in moderation.

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