It appears that having a sweet tooth may be helpful after all. In fact, eating chocolate in moderation a few times a week could benefit you. According to a study published recently in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, consuming chocolate between one to three times per week reduced risk of coronary artery disease by 8 percent.
To draw this conclusion, researchers across the U.S. looked at six studies over five decades from 1996 to January 2020. Comprising 336,289 individuals, the study subjects were from three continents. This included 266,264 people from the United States, 68,809 from Sweden and 1,216 from Australia.
Individuals were followed for nearly nine years in the chosen studies to be able to make comparisons between people who did not eat chocolate and the progression of the diseases they suffered from. As many as 21,777 diseases were reported by the participants during the follow-up period. Of which, 14,043 cases were of coronary artery disease, 4,667 heart attacks, 2,735 strokes and 332 heart failures. This gave the study’s authors the opportunity to investigate the impact of chocolate on disease risk, particularly if it affected the heart’s functioning.
“Our study suggests that chocolate helps keep the heart’s blood vessels healthy. In the past, clinical studies have shown that chocolate is beneficial for both blood pressure and the lining of blood vessels. I wanted to see if it affects the blood vessels supplying the heart (the coronary arteries) or not. And if it does, is it beneficial or harmful?,” study author Dr. Chayakrit Krittanawong of Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas said in the news release.
This systematic analysis of previous studies took the quantity of chocolate into account. Each serving was limited to 30 grams of chocolate. Researchers could not determine the optimal amount required to promote good health as chocolate products are made with milk, sugar and fat in varying amounts. For this reason, Dr. Krittanawong advises against overindulging: “Moderate amounts of chocolate seem to protect the coronary arteries but it’s likely that large quantities do not.The calories, sugar, milk, and fat in commercially available products need to be considered, particularly in diabetics and obese people.”
When it came to understanding protective effects of chocolate on diabetes alone, the researchers found that eating two servings of chocolate helped prevent diabetes. However, when the consumption was increased to about six servings per week, no positive effect was noted on diabetes control. With congenital heart defect (CHD) and strokes, disease risk was brought down by less than three servings a week. “In conclusion, chocolate intake is associated with decreased risks of CHD, stroke, and diabetes. Consuming chocolate in moderation [≤6 servings/week] may be optimal for preventing these disorders,” the authors wrote.
While it may be confusing to people that doctors generally do not recommend food with sugar content, dark chocolate in moderation is recommended for people with diabetes and heart disease. Cocoa, the main ingredient in chocolate, contains flavonols, an antioxidant that can reduce risk of heart disease and diabetes, according to the Mayo Clinic.“Chocolate contains heart healthy nutrients such as flavonoids, methylxanthines, polyphenols and stearic acid which may reduce inflammation and increase good cholesterol [high-density lipoprotein or HDL cholesterol],’’ Dr. Krittanawong explained.
Nevertheless, the new study did not examine the different types of chocolates available, hence the paper did not mention dark chocolate specifically. The study has many such limits. Researchers could not determine the physiological process of chocolate consumption and reduced risk of heart disease either. Therefore, long-term, double-blind, randomized controlled trials are required to understand this further, they said. One such study due to be completed by 2021 is COSMOS (for COcoa Supplement and Multivitamin Outcome Study) led by Harvard and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
This four-year long study with 18,000 people is examining whether cocoa extract supplement containing 600 mg/d flavanols and a multivitamin could protect cardiovascular health and cancer risk. Furthermore, Harvard researchers maintained that their intention is not to make a clinical recommendation, but to provide more information on the benefits of cocoa flavanols.