Chocolate May Be Heart Healthy, Study Finds

Although it’s a good idea for all of us to watch the amount of sugar and candy we consume on a daily basis, a new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that chocolate can have real benefits for your heart. Researchers combined the results of 42 smaller clinical trials to create the new report, which shows strong evidence that people who consume chocolate or cocoa for several weeks have lower blood pressure and improved response of blood vessels to increases in blood flow.

In addition, the study revealed that people are also likely to experience lower insulin levels after consuming chocolate regularly, which is potentially significant considering that high levels of the insulin hormone increase your chances of being diagnosed with type two diabetes.

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Although these findings are encouraging for chocolate lovers the world over, it is important to note that many of the studies were small and had some common limitations, such as focusing on unsweetened or dark chocolate and products with a cocoa content of 70 percent or higher. This means that milk chocolate, cake and cookies may not be any healthier than you previously imagined, and should be consumed in moderation as part of a well-balanced diet.

“My takeaway message would be that if people like dark chocolate, then eating a little in place of the other ‘treat’ foods is fine, and may be beneficial,” stated Lee Hooper of the UK’s Norwich Medical School and lead researcher on the study. “The evidence is not yet good enough to suggest that we should all be doing this.”

Over the last few years, a number of studies about the supposed health benefits of chocolate have made headlines, claiming that chocolate lovers tend to have lower instances of certain heart-related risks, such as high blood pressure. However, it is important to note that these studies were purely observational, which means that they do not prove cause and effect. Or in other words, people who like to eat chocolate and were involved in the studies may have other factors in their health history, genetic makeup and daily life that are not related to chocolate consumption that could explain the improved heart health.

By contrast, the recent study focused on results from actual clinical trials, where participants were instructed when and how much chocolate to eat and were monitored to record changes in blood pressure, cholesterol and other heart-related indicators. Researchers say that the improvements that were found – although small – could indicate that consuming certain types of chocolate actually has health benefits, but more work is necessary to determine the extent to which it could help boost overall heart health.

For now, anyone interested in consuming chocolate for health should keep in mind that one ounce of dark chocolate has around 150 calories, half of which is typically from saturated fat, which has been found to increase cholesterol levels when consumed in excess. Instead, look for dark chocolate with at least 60 or 70 percent cocoa solids, and keep portions small – around an ounce per day.