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Good news for chocolate lovers: The more you eat, the lower your risk of heart disease, study suggests

imrsChocolate mousse and French macaroons at French Broad Chocolate Lounge in Asheville, N.C. (Eliza Bell Photography/French Broad Chocolates)

Ahh, chocolate. There probably isn’t a more magical ingredient on earth than the sweet, dark brown flavoring used for more than 3,000 years. Today most chocolate is consumed in the form of candy — a development that has sparked heated debate among scientists about what that’s doing to our health.

Common sense tells us that too much of something so fatty and full of calories is a bad thing.

But a surprising number of studies have found that dark chocolate can reduce the risk of death from a heart attack, decrease blood pressure and help those with chronic fatigue syndrome. Consumers have been so eager to justify indulging in their chocolate cravings that earlier this year many were duped by a fake study that purported to show that chocolate helps in weight loss. (The study, which was not peer-reviewed, was an attempt by a science journalist, with a Ph.D. degree, to shame media outlets who he said have a history of misreporting or misinterpreting research.)

The question for many chocolate lovers has been at what point are you having too much of a good thing. That is, is there an optimal “dose” for chocolate eating?

A new study published in the journal Heart on Monday looked at the effect of diet on long-term health. It involved 25,000 volunteers and found that the answer to how much chocolate can be good for you is — a lot. Study participants in the high consumption group — those who ate 15 to 100 grams of chocolate a day in the form of everything from Mars bars to hot cocoa — had lower heart disease and stroke risk than those who did not consume the confection.

A hundred grams is equivalent to about two classic Hershey’s bars or — if you’re going fancy — five Godiva truffles. In terms of calories you’re looking at 500-535. To put that into perspective, the Department of Agriculture recommends men consume 2,000 to 3,000 calories a day depending on their height, body composition and whether they are sedentary or active.

This association in the study was valid even after researchers adjusted for a wide range of risk factors, such as age, smoking, alcohol consumption, physical activity and other dietary variables.

“The main message is that you don’t need to worry too much if you are only moderately eating chocolate,” Phyo Myint, a professor at the School of Medicine at the University of Aberdeen and one of the study’s lead authors, said in an interview.

Higher levels of consumption were associated with a large number of other positives in the study: lower BMI, waist:hip ratio, systolic blood pressure, inflammatory proteins. As compared with those who ate no chocolate, those who ate high amounts saw a 11 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease and 25 percent lower risk of associated death.

The study also noted that more of the participants in the study ate milk chocolate vs. dark chocolate which has long been considered healthier. This might suggest that beneficial health effects may apply to both, the researchers said.

“Our results are somewhat surprising since the expectation was that benefits of chocolate consumption would be mainly associated with dark chocolate rather than the commercially available products generally used in a British population which are high in sugar content and fat,” the study’s author wrote.


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