Who says healthy eating has to be a chore? A new study has found that a habitual chocolate habit can actually be healthy! At least, from a heart and cardiovascular perspective. Researchers from the Baylor College of Medicine have found that eating chocolate at least once per week is linked to a lower risk of developing heart disease.
“Our study suggests that chocolate helps keep the heart’s blood vessels healthy,” explains study author Dr. Chayakrit Krittanawong of Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, in a press release.
“In the past, clinical studies have shown that chocolate is beneficial for both blood pressure and the lining of blood vessels,” he adds. “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?”
The research team came to their conclusions by combing through and analyzing a large collection of prior research that had been conducted over the past fifty years. All of the analyzed research projects had investigated the relationship between chocolate eating habits and the development of coronary heart disease (coronary artery blockages). All in all, six studies encompassing 336,289 people were included in the analysis.
Across all of those prior studies, participants had reported their daily chocolate consumption habits and were then tracked for varying periods to assess health outcomes. On average, participants within all six earlier studies were tracked for nearly nine years.
During that follow-up period, 14,043 people ended up developing coronary artery disease. Additionally, 4,667 people suffered a heart attack. Heart attacks are often caused by coronary artery disease, which is known to impede blood flow to the heart.
However, once the research team added participants’ chocolate eating habits into the equation, a noteworthy association was found. In comparison to people who eat chocolate less than once per week, eating chocolate at least once per seven days was linked to an 8% lower risk of developing coronary heart disease.
So, how does chocolate foster strong blood vessel health and functioning? The study’s authors can’t say with absolute certainty, but they have some ideas.
“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),” comments Dr. Krittanawong.
This study didn’t delve into if any one type of chocolate (dark, white, etc) offers more heart health benefits than others, nor did it look into optimal portion sizes.
“Chocolate appears promising for prevention of coronary artery disease, but more research is needed to pinpoint how much and what kind of chocolate could be recommended,” Dr. Krittanawong says.
Still, Dr. Krittanawong and his team say their findings shouldn’t encourage anyone to eat copious amounts of chocolate. Just like with so many other areas of life and eating, moderation is key.
“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,” he concludes.
The full study can be found here, published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.