Right kind of chocolate could do your heart a power of good
Chocoholics can breathe a small sigh of relief as scientists continue to churn out evidence that the odd bit of indulgence benefits rather than damages your health.
Researchers at Monash University in Australia have come to the conclusion that daily consumption of dark chocolate could actually help fight heart disease.
Researchers point out that dark chocolate contains polyphenols - specifically flavonoids from the cocoa bean - that are thought to help reduce blood pressure and have anti-inflammatory, anti-thrombotic and metabolic effects.
The study found that daily consumption of 100g of dark chocolate - equating to one premium-quality block containing a minimum 70 per cent cocoa - could prevent 70 non-fatal and 15 fatal cardiovascular events, such as heart attack or stroke, per 10,000 people over a 10-year period.
Researcher Ella Zomer says: “Our findings indicate dark chocolate therapy could provide an alternative to, or be used to complement, drug therapeutics in people at high risk of cardiovascular disease.”
Another study published in March went a step further, suggesting that people who ate chocolate regularly
were actually slimmer than those who didn’t.
Dr Beatrice Golomb and colleagues from the University of California, San Diego, studied dietary and other information provided by 1,000 adults and found that those who ate chocolate on more days a week had a lower body mass index (BMI) than those who ate chocolate less often. Those who indulged more frequently didn’t eat fewer calories overall, nor did they exercise more. Nothing in the study suggested that their lower BMIs could be explained by these factors.
“Our findings appear to add to a body of information suggesting that the composition of calories, not just the number of them, matters for determining their ultimate impact on weight,” said Dr Golomb.
Anti-obesity campaigners say the evidence is flimsy, arguing that anyone eating lots of chocolate is likely to pile on the kilos. British Dietetic Association spokesperson Jennifer Low says the problem with many of the chocolate studies is that they’re not necessarily “robust” or conclusive.
She suggests further research is required to establish whether or not chocolate actually does provide health benefits and if it does, what, exactly, causes them.
“At the moment, we shouldn’t all go out and start munching chocolate for health reasons,” she says.
Dark chocolate with at least 70 per cent cocoa solids is more ‘healthy’ than milk chocolate or white chocolate as it contains more polyphenols - antioxidants - and is lower in fat and sugar. Also, because the cocoa solids make it so rich, people tend to eat less of it.
However, Low points out that polyphenols are also found in plant-based foods such as fruit, vegetables, legumes and unrefined wholegrains.
“There’s definitely robust evidence for including those foods in your diet so they’d be a better way forward,” she advises.
“If you don’t eat chocolate already, you don’t need to start - it contains a lot of fat and sugar, which is linked to obesity and Type II diabetes.
“If you’re eating it as a comfort food, perhaps you should ask yourself if you need a hug more than a bar of chocolate.”