It’s the ultimate comfort food which is known to produce the same chemical in the brain as falling in love. Now scientists at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland have shown that chocolate need no longer be a guilty pleasure after finding that eating up to two bars a day appears to protect against heart disease and stroke.
Although dark chocolate has long been known to have health benefits, the new study found that milk chocolate may also provide valuable nutrients which lower the chance of heart problems.
It is the latest research to highlight the value of the treat. Previously chocolate have been shown to reduce memory loss, prevent diabetes, reduce stress, protect the skin against sun damage and lower cholesterol.
To find out if it was beneficial for the heart researchers at the University of Aberdeen looked at the snacking habits of 21,000 people over 12 years. They found that eating up to 100g of chocolate every day lowered the risk of dying from heart disease during that time by 25 per cent. The chance of suffering a stroke also fell by 23 per cent.
Professor Phyo Myint, Chair in Old Age Medicine at Aberdeen University, said: “Cumulative evidence suggests that higher chocolate intake is associated with a lower risk of future cardiovascular events.
“This may indicate that not only flavonoids, but also other compounds, possibly related to milk constituents, such as calcium and fatty acids, may provide an explanation for the observed association.”
The researchers also carried out a review of the available published evidence on the links between chocolate and cardiovascular disease, involving almost 158,000 people. In each of the relevant studies they found a significantly lower risk stroke and heart disease associated with regular chocolate consumption.
Curiously, those who ate the most chocolate were slimmer, exercised more often and had lower blood pressure. The researchers suggest that the findings could be partially skewed by mis-reporting of food intake or the fact that people with a higher heart disease risk profile eat less chocolate and foods containing it than those who are healthier.
Commenting on the study Professor Naveed Sattar, of the University of Glasfow said:
“It may be that some folk are, perhaps substantially, under-reporting how much chocolate they eat since they really do not wish to tell the truth because they know they should try to avoid high density calories like chocolate. I would not be rushing out to buy chocolate for a treat – rather, if peckish, a piece or two of fruit is far better, and comes from nature itself. However the authors conclude that the evidence suggests that ‘higher chocolate intake is associated with a lower risk of future cardiovascular events.”
Health experts said that new study added to growing evidence that chocolate could be beneficial to health but warned against over indulging.
Dr Tim Chico, Reader in Cardiovascular Medicine and Consultant Cardiologist at the University of Sheffield, said:
“These studies taken together suggest that there might be some health benefits from eating chocolate. However, it is also clear that chocolate has the potential to increase weight, which is unequivocally bad for cardiovascular health. The message I take from this study is that if you are a healthy weight, then eating chocolate (in moderation) does not detectibly increase risk of heart disease and may even have some benefit.”
Prof Aedin Cassidy, Professor of Nutrition at the University of East Anglia (UEA), added: “We need long term trials to further understand the importance of chocolate for heart health.”
Dr Shamim Quadir, Research Communications Manager at the Stroke Association, said: “While this study builds on previous research and suggests a link between a higher intake of chocolate (up to 100g per day) and lower risk of stroke, it is very hard to establish a single dietary component that will have a positive, or negative, effect on the health of an individual.
“We all can reduce our risk of stroke by exercising regularly, consuming a healthy, balanced diet and getting our blood pressure checked.”
The research was published in the June BMJ journal Heart.