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A chocolate a day keeps the doctor away?

chocolate health benefits

Is chocolate good for your health, specifically your heart health.

A recent study published in BMJ (British Medical Journal) appears to suggest eating a small amount of chocolate each day may not increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.

What the?  Can this really be true?  Or is there more to this than first appears?

Read on for the low down.

What was the aim?

The aim of the research was to understand what the association was between eating chocolate and the risk of future cardiovascular events.

 What did they do?

  1. It followed a similar group of people (men and women from Norfolk, England) who differed in a number of identifiable key aspects.
  2. The aspects that differed between the groups was what they ate, i.e. specifically whether they ate chocolate.
  3. The aim was to understand the impact of their diet on their long term health using food frequency and lifestyle questionnaires.
  4. The aim was to determine if factors that differed between each group could explain whether or not they experienced cardiovascular health issues.
  5. 20,951 people were included in the study, they also looked at 9 other studies increasing the number of people covered to 25,000.
  6. They followed the people for a median of 11.9years.

What did they eat?

  • Approx. 20% of participants in the study did not eat any chocolate.
  • Amongst other participants, the average daily consumption was between 7 g, however there were some who ate up to 100 g.

What about their health?

  • The higher levels of chocolate consumed were associated with a younger age and lower weight (BMI), as well as lower waist: hip ratio, blood pressure (systolic), lower levels of diabetes and lower levels of indicators of systemic inflammation.
  • The higher levels of chocolate were also associated with more regular physical activity.
  • These factors combined equate to decreased risk of cardiovascular disease.

What did they eat?

  • The found those who ate more chocolate had higher energy intake (calories / kJs) and that there diet contained more fat and carbohydrates and less protein and alcohol.

What was the change in risk?

  • Those who had a higher intake of chocolate had a 11% lower risk of cardiovascular disease and a 25% lower risk of associated death.
  • Those who had a higher intake of chocolate also had a 9% lower risk of hospital admission or death as a result of coronary heart disease, after taking account of dietary factors.
  • Levels of systemic inflammation was 18% lower in those who ate chocolate.
  • Those who ate the highest levels of chocolate had a 23% lower risk of stroke, after adjusting for other potential risk factors.

Why do we need to be wary?

It would be easy to say, yay and pass me a large block of dark chocolate, however we need to be mindful of the following potential qualifiers.

Like most things in life, things are not always black and white.

  1. This is an observational study and hence definitive conclusions about cause and effect cannot be drawn.
  2. Food frequency questionnaires are filled out by people and they may over or under estimate what they ate.
  3. It may be that the results are impacted by something called reverse causation.  This is where those with a known increased cardiovascular risk eat less chocolate because they think they need to avoid it.

What did they conclude?

  • “Cumulative evidence suggested that higher chocolate intake is associated with a lower risk of future cardiovascular events.” (1,2)

  • “There does not appear to be any evidence to say that chocolate should be avoided in those who are concerned about cardiovascular risk.” (1,2)

What is the bottom line?

I strongly recommend you eat a diet based on fresh food, quality, balance, variety and moderation.

We know dark quality chocolate is full of antioxidants, so including a small amount of dark chocolate as a treat as part of a healthy balanced diet is fine.

And of course, I encourage you to choose quality dark chocolate, and aim for it to be 70% plus.

ciao Jan

References:

1. BMJ Article: http://heart.bmj.com/content/early/2015/05/20/heartjnl-2014-307050

2. Science Daily Article:  http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/06/150615191518.htm