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Can a little chocolate cut your heart disease and stroke risk?

Consumer Reports News: August 30, 2011 09:08 AM

People who eat higher amounts of chocolate have a significantly lower risk of heart disease—37 percent lower, in fact—than those who consume less of the confection, according to a large-scale review published this week in the British Medical Journal. The study also found a 29 percent reduction in stroke risk and a 31 percent reduction in diabetes risk in people who consume higher amounts of chocolate. While none of the research involved randomized controlled trials, the evidence does hint at a rather
sweet prospect: A little chocolate might be good for your heart as well as your soul.

Researchers looked at the results of seven studies including 114,009 participants, and compared the group with the highest chocolate consumption with the group with the lowest. The studies did not differentiate between dark or milk chocolate, and included chocolate bars, chocolate drinks, and chocolate snacks (confectionary, biscuits, desserts, nutritional supplements, and candy bars). Five of the seven studies reported a beneficial association between a high intake of chocolate and risk of cardiovascular events, including heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, but no significant reduction in heart failure risk.

Dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants called flavonols (milk chocolate contains far less), naturally-occurring compounds known to have positive influences on vascular health, such as lower blood pressure and improved blood flow to the brain and heart.

Bottom line: While further research is needed, this latest review adds to a number of studies in support of the beneficial effects of eating chocolate. Previous studies have linked the treat to a reduced risk of heart problems, stroke and lower stress levels. Of course everything in moderation—since over-indulging can mean piling up on calories and saturated fat. Limit yourself to small to moderate portions a couple of times a week. And steer clear of chocolate treats filled with caramel, marshmallows, or toffee—those sugary ingredients add to the calorie and saturated-fat count. Keep your nibbling to a minimum if you’re pregnant (because of the caffeine) or if you suffer from migraines or frequent heartburn.

Finally, don’t rely on chocolate alone—incorporate other tried-and-true ways to lower your heart-disease risk, such as maintaining a heart-healthy diet, exercising regularly, and avoiding cigarettes.

Chocolate consumption and cardiometabolic disorders: systematic review and meta-analysis [The British Medical Journal]
Heart-Health Benefits of Chocolate Unveiled [Cleveland Clinic]

Ginger Skinner

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