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Eat Chocolate, Reduce Risk of Cardiovascular Disease, Diabetes

Box of Chocolate

Here’s a study chocolate lovers everywhere will appreciate: University of Cambridge researchers found that people who consumed the highest amount of chocolate had a significant reduction in cardiovascular disease and diabetes than did people who ate the lowest amount. The meta-analysis involved more than 100,000 people, some of whom had existing heart disease.

We need low-calorie, low-fat, low-sugar chocolate

Numerous studies have suggested that chocolate is a heart-healthy food, benefits attributed to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of this much-loved food. However, in some ways this suggestion flies in the face of other nutritional information, because chocolate is typically high in fat and sugar, substances not associated with heart health.

In this meta-analysis, researchers evaluated the impact of chocolate on diabetes, incidence of cardiovascular disease and mortality, coronary heart disease, incidence of stroke, and deaths from stroke from the results of seven studies. Overall, results of five studies revealed that the “highest levels of chocolate consumption were associate with a 37% reduction in cardiovascular disease and a 29% reduction in stroke compared with lowest levels.”

One limitation of the study is that no distinction was made between the type of chocolate consumed (dark, milk, white) or the form (candy bars, chocolate beverages, chocolate nutritional supplements, chocolate biscuits, and so on). Commercial chocolate is also high in calories, so despite its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits, enjoying too much chocolate can contribute to the very conditions it may help.

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So despite previous research and the current meta-analysis showing potential benefits associated with chocolate consumption and heart health, it is still a situation of consumer beware. In fact, the authors of this latest study noted that “considering the limited data available, any conclusions should be cautious.”

They go on to say that “the current evidence on hard and intermediate outcomes suggests that chocolate might be a viable instrument in the prevention of cardiometabolic disorders if consumed in moderation and if efforts are made to reduce the sugar and fat content of currently available products.”

This study was the first attempt to review all the studies that analyzed the relationship between eating chocolate and cardiometabolic events. Although it confirms the findings of previous studies, the chocolate debate is not over, and further studies are needed to determine if chocolate causes the reductions in cardiovascular disease and diabetes or there are other factors.

Buitrago-Lopez A et al. British Medical Journal 2011; 343:d4488

Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons

Updated June 15, 2015