Is chocolate really good for your health?

August 9, 2022
Is chocolate really good for your health?

Chocolate’s popularity is owed to its many variable and delectable tastes – but does chocolate really benefit your health? Some studies have found that some types of chocolate are able to lower blood pressure and improve blood cholesterol and the health of blood vessels in adults, while other studies claim that those who eat chocolate might have a lower risk of certain cardiovascular diseases.

According to Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, a cardiologist and Professor of Nutrition at the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, US, “Whether chocolate is good for you or not depends on how much cocoa is actually in it, and what else is in it.”

Cocoa beans, from which chocolate is derived, are packed with fibre and phytonutrients which can be extracted in the form of cocoa. There are hundreds of different chemicals contained within this extract, among them a large class of compounds called flavanols that have attracted significant research interest for their potential health benefits.

Though the cocoa content can vary in a regular chocolate bar, milk chocolate typically contains a minimum of 10% of cocoa – some milk chocolate bars contain as much as 50% or more. Dark chocolate usually contains more cocoa than milk chocolate and is much less sweet.

In a study earlier this year, Dr. Mozaffarian and his colleagues found an association between eating chocolate and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, estimating that an average daily intake of just 10 grams, or about one-third of an ounce of chocolate, was associated with a 6% reduction in the overall risk of cardiovascular disease.

Interestingly, Dr. JoAnn Manson, Chief of Preventive Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital said such studies could only identify correlations between eating chocolate and health, and were unable to prove that it was indeed the chocolate that caused health benefits. These studies also don’t often account for the different types of chocolate, which can vary in their cocoa content; the sugar, fat and calorie count might negate any health benefits from the cocoa as well.

This led Dr. Manson to conduct a study of her own which saw more than 21,000 older adults in the US consuming a cocoa extract supplement containing 500 milligrams of cocoa flavanols. The study participants were found to have a 27% reduction in cardiovascular deaths but were not exempt from experiencing cardiovascular events in the first place – Dr. Manson called these results “promising signals for heart protection.”

Dr. Manson’s study is known as the COSMOS trial: participants were not given commercially-available chocolate, but rather concentrated capsules of cocoa extract produced by chocolate-maker Mars, which also partially funded the study. She revealed that to get the same amount of bioactive cocoa flavanols from chocolate, a person would have to eat close to 4,000 calories of milk chocolate or 600 calories of dark chocolate per day.

Regardless of the outcome of the COSMOS trial, Dr. Mozaffarian stands by existing research that dark chocolate containing 70% or more cocoa is likely beneficial for heart health, even if it contains less flavanols.

“Eating a small amount of dark chocolate every day is probably really good for us, and it will make you happy, because it tastes good,” he said.

Category: Education, Features

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