Too Sweet or Too Dark?
“Nine out of ten people like chocolate, the tenth person always lies.”
— John Q. Tullius
Chocolate is loved by millions around the world, despite its reputation for contributing to weight gain and high blood sugar levels. But recently, this sweet treat has emerged as a heart-healthy food that can possibly reduce your risk of heart disease. So is chocolate actually beneficial for your heart health? Let’s demystify the scientific research behind this link.
Breaking down the science
So what about chocolate makes it potentially healthy?
You may be familiar with the three main types of chocolate: dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and white chocolate. How dark a chocolate turns out is determined by the proportion of cocoa solids in it. Cocoa solids are made from cocoa beans, which are mixed with cocoa butter and sugar.
Cocoa beans contain antioxidants called flavonoids, which have been shown to have positive effects on different aspects of heart health. This is because of their antioxidant properties that help counteract the damage caused by free radicals to cells, proteins, and DNA.
Research says a lot!
There has been a lot of research exploring the link between eating chocolate and the risk of heart disease:
- A study published in the scientific journal Nutrients, which pooled results from many other research studies, showed that eating chocolate was linked with a 10% lower risk of ischemic heart disease and 16% lower risk of stroke.
- One study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association looked at the impacts of eating almonds and dark chocolate in overweight/obese participants. The study found that after 4 weeks, eating both almonds and dark chocolate lowered total cholesterol levels by 4% and ‘bad’ (LDL) cholesterol levels by 7%. But having dark chocolate alone did not have any effects.
- One long-term study showed that eating 6 grams of chocolate per day lowered blood pressure by 2–3 points. The reduction was greater when dark chocolate was eaten instead of white.
- Another long-term study published in the American Heart Journal followed-up with about 32,000 Swedish men for 14 years. The study found that men who ate 3–6 servings of chocolate per week were 18% less likely to experience heart failure. But men who consumed more than 1 serving of chocolate per day were 10% more likely to experience heart failure. So, the protective effects of chocolate were lost among those who consumed a lot of chocolate.
So can you now devour chocolate to your “heart’s” content?
The answer is no.
Despite the well-documented benefits, a lot of research has also shown no links between chocolate and the lower risk of heart disease. The research has also been conducted in different populations and has used different methods of analyses, so it’s difficult to draw concrete conclusions.
Moreover, chocolate may still be loaded with refined sugar, calories, and fats. Chocolates filled with calorie-dense ingredients like caramel and creams lose their potential protective effects on the heart. So when thinking about having chocolate, the darker, the better. Dark chocolate with at least 70% cacao will assure you more flavonoids and lower calories. But again, dark chocolate may be high in fat, so moderation is key to prevent the risk of weight gain.
To conclude, dark chocolate with a high cacao percentage may be a better alternative to other sugar-loaded desserts as a guilt-free ending to a meal. Enjoying a piece of dark chocolate a few times a week may be beneficial to your heart. But remember to choose your chocolate wisely. Watch out for the cacao percentage and other calorie-dense ingredients. Always remember…YOUr health is in YOUr hands!
DISCLAIMER: Dr. YOU aims to bring you the latest evidence-based science, and our content is for informational purposes only. The content is not medical advice or guarantee of an outcome. You should always consult a doctor or qualified healthcare professional if you need further clarification and before making any changes to your treatment plans and lifestyle, or that of others.
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