For those who have an undeniable sweet tooth, there appears to be scientific evidence to justify eating a moderate amount of dark chocolate daily. However, more research is needed before the connection between chocolate and heart health is completely understood.
In a study published in the journal Heart in 2015, researchers analyzed studies looking at chocolate intake and the risk of heart failure involving over 20,000 participants. Most of the studies used questionnaires, asking the participants how much chocolate they consumed. After adjusting their findings for lifestyle and dietary factors, the researchers found a 19 percent reduction in heart failure in the top versus the bottom chocolate consumers. While these findings were not statistically significant, there was still a reduction in heart failure among the top chocolate consumers.
There also have been studies published that link chocolate to overall health and potentially to heart health. For example, cocoa is rich in flavonoids, which are believed to be heart-protective. It is also known that flavanol-rich cocoa products have the capacity to lower blood pressure. Other researchers have found that dark chocolate consumption can reduce inflammation, which can also be good news for our heart.
Even though the research is beginning to show the heart benefits of chocolate, there are still reasons to be cautious about consumption. Chocolate in the form of candy can often be high in sugar and therefore may cause weight gain. Those with diabetes may need to avoid chocolate that is high in sugar.
Chocolate contains a relatively high amount of caffeine, which can be a problem for some, especially for children. Chocolate can also be a trigger food for those with acid reflux.
Milk is often paired with chocolate in manufacturing, which can be a problem for those with milk intolerances.
Chocolate quality varies greatly between candy bars, ice cream, and chocolate drinks. This means that the cocoa and flavonoid content varies also. Exactly how much chocolate is needed to be helpful to your heart still needs to be determined. However, the benefits of chocolate appear to be in the top levels of consumption. The recommended dosages for health benefits range from 10-60 grams per day of dark chocolate (greater than 70 percent cocoa). Milk and white chocolate should be avoided because they contain more sugar compared to dark chocolate and have less beneficial compounds. Good quality dark chocolate bars can often be found in health food stores, some mainstream grocery stores, and online health food stores.
Cocoa powder that does not have any sugar added can also be a good source of chocolate in cooking and hot chocolate recipes.
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Tracy Davenport, Ph.D., is a freelance health writer and the C.E.O. of Tracy’s Smoothie Place. She serves as the expert on a weekly radio show about health and wellness and is the author of Making Life Better for a Baby with Acid Reflux and multiple articles about the cost of caregiving. Learn more about Tracy and what healthy living services and products she can offer on her website. She can also be found on Twitter and Instagram @drinksmoothies.