Chocolate every day can reduce risk of heart disease – but just a little bite
Previous studies have found that chocolate – particularly of the dark variety – contains compounds which may reduce the inflammation that leads to heart disease.
Now researchers have combined the results of numerous studies to show that chocolate consumption could help reduce the risk of heart disease by almost 40 per cent.
But researchers and health campaigners warned that only small amounts of chocolate were required to have this effect – as little as one square a day – and it should not be seen as an excuse to gorge on unhealthy foods.
In the latest research, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), experts from the University of Cambridge reviewed seven studies on chocolate consumption and links to reduced health risks.
Five of the studies reported a positive link between higher levels of chocolate consumption and lower risks of several diseases.
Overall, people who ate the most chocolate had a 37 per cent reduced risk of heart disease and a 29 per cent reduction in stroke compared with those eating the least.
One of the studies also found a 31 per cent lower risk of diabetes among chocolate-lovers.
But none found a significant reduction in heart failure.
The research, which covered more than 100,000 people, included milk, dark and white chocolate and examined consumption of chocolate bars, drinks, biscuits and desserts. But none of the studies differentiated between the different types of chocolate to show which might be most effective at reducing risk.
The definition of high consumption was generally regarded as eating chocolate more than once a week or around 7.5g daily – one small square.
However, the authors warned that the results should be interpreted with caution, particularly since commercially available chocolate contains around 500 calories in every 100 grams.
While the health benefits of eating chocolate mean more could be done to reduce its fat and sugar content, further studies are needed, the experts said.
The researchers said: “Although over-consumption can have harmful effects, the existing studies generally agree on a potential beneficial association of chocolate consumption with a lower risk of cardiometabolic disorders.”
Victoria Taylor, from the British Heart Foundation, said: “Evidence does suggest chocolate might have some heart health benefits but we need to find out why that might be.
“We can’t start advising people to eat lots of chocolate based on this research.
“It didn’t explore what it is about chocolate that could help and if one particular type of chocolate is better than another.
“If you want to reduce your heart disease risk, there are much better places to start than at the bottom of a box of chocolates.
“You can still eat chocolate as part of a balanced diet but moderation is key.”
Libby Dowling, from Diabetes UK, said: “On no account should people take away the message from this study that eating chocolate can reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes or cardiovascular disease, which can also be a complication of diabetes. Chocolate is high in fat and sugar, which adds to weight gain, so this would outweigh any health benefits associated with eating it.”