Could You Grate Some Chocolate Over My Dinner?

You’ve probably heard tidbits in the general press from time to time that chocolate is good for you — in smallish quantities. I’ve always been wary of those reports because so many chocolate products contain a lot of butterfat and sugar. But a 12-year study in Britain just published in the international journal Heart is convincing that a little chocolate every day is a factor in preventing heart attacks and strokes.

Researchers questioned 21,000 adults who are part of a multiyear ongoing study of more than half a million people called EPIC, for European Prospective Investigation Into Cancer and Nutrition. The study is looking for links between what people eat and cancer. Cambridge University runs part of the study involving adults who live in or near Norfolk, England. Those participants were asked questions over a number of years about their chocolate intake.

ChocolateCan you trust a study that says the more chocolate you eat the longer you will live?

The participants who ate the most chocolate regularly had an 11% less chance of developing coronary heart disease and were 25% less likely to die of cardiovascular disease. Those are dramatic numbers. And to top it off, those that ate the most chocolate (the participants were divided into five groups of consumption from highest to lowest) were 23% less likely to have a stroke.

Chocolate is loaded with flavonoid antioxidants. They are thought to lower LDL cholesterol levels and raise HDL cholesterol levels as well as enhance the function of cells that line blood vessels, called the endothelium.

There’s always a “but” in observational studies like these, and one of them is that most people ate milk chocolate, as opposed to purely dark chocolate. That leaves open the possibility that the good effects in the study were created by ingredients in milk, such as fatty acids and calcium. Another “but” is that studies like this cannot show definitive cause and effect.

It’s also impossible to tell just how coincidental this is, but the group that ate the least amount of chocolate had the highest body mass index, exercised the least, drank more alcohol, ate more fat and consumed higher levels of carbohydrates. Do people who eat chocolate have more energy? Does chocolate raise energy levels? Do people who eat less chocolate avoid it because they already have health concerns?

There are a lot of unanswered questions resulting from this study, but I am convinced that a few squares of chocolate every day, besides being tasty, is unlikely to be harmful. Think of it as a vitamin that actually works.

To your health and wealth,

Stephen Petranek

Stephen L. Petranek