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  • Eating chocolate may reduce your risk of heart disease according to a 2011 study published in the prestigious British Medical Journal. However, you might also wind up fat and spotty from too much self-treatment.

    In the study, researchers found that high levels of chocolate consumption seem to be associated with a one-third reduction in the risk of developing heart disease. Further research is needed to work out exactly why this happens and whether it is the chocolate itself or some other factor (for example, the milk content or even if it is a psychological relaxing or stress-relief effect associated with having a chocolate!) that produces the beneficial result.

    The findings confirm results of existing studies that agree on a potential beneficial link between chocolate consumption and heart health. However, in their study, the authors urge people to be cautious in interpreting the results, mainly because commercially available chocolate has a lot of calories (around 500 calories for every 100 grams) and eating too much of it could lead to weight gain, risk of diabetes and – conversely – heart disease. To make it plain, eating chocolate should not replace good lifestyle and diet choices that are critical in preventing heart disease.

    Chocolate has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties

    Health warnings aside, a number of recent studies have shown the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of chocolate have a positive affect on human health, such as reducing blood pressure and improving insulin sensitivity. (Reduced insulin sensitivity is a stage in the development of type 2 diabetes.)

    This study, carried out by the University of Cambridge, examined existing evidence to find out the effects of eating chocolate on ‘cardiovascular events’ such as heart attack and stroke.

    They analysed the results of seven studies, involving over 100,000 participants with and without existing heart disease. For each study, they compared the group with the highest chocolate consumption against the group with the lowest consumption.

    Five studies reported a beneficial link between higher levels of chocolate consumption and the risk of cardiovascular events. They found that the “highest levels of chocolate consumption were associated with a 37% reduction in cardiovascular disease and a 29% reduction in stroke compared with lowest levels”.

    The studies did not differentiate between dark or milk chocolate and included consumption of chocolate bars, drinks, biscuits and desserts.

    But you should not eat lots of chocolate

    The authors conclude there are certainly health benefits from eating chocolate and that we should be examining ways to reduce the current fat and sugar content in most chocolate products.

    A final word of caution from Dr Victoria Taylor, Senior Heart Health Dietitian at the British Heart Foundation. In an interview with the UK Science Media Centre, Dr Taylor says that, while the evidence suggests chocolate might have some heart health benefits, “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 because this sweet treat is usually packed with saturated fat and calories.”

    Related content

    Explore some of the science ideas and concepts around digestion in:

    • Unlocking the energy in foods – The foods we eat supply the energy needed by the body to drive its complex chemical, mechanical and electrical systems. Where does this energy come from, how is it locked into food molecules and how is it released?
    • Energy requirements of the bodyMacronutrients supply the energy needed by the body to keep it functioning. The rate of energy release from macronutrients by chemical processes occurring in the body is known as metabolic rate.

    Read more about health claims and food products. When looking at claims about food it is important to read more than just the headline. In the article Read news like a scientist discover how to approach science news like a scientist – see past the sensational and find the facts.

    Activity idea

    Because chocolate is packed with fat and sugar, it has a high energy content. Your students may like to try the Calculating RMR and daily energy output activity in which they calculate their average daily energy expenditure and relate this to what they eat in a day, including their intake of chocolate.

    Useful links

    Read the full research report in the British Medical Journal.

    Why not do some of your own research to find how "good" chocolate really is for you, much will depend on the quantity and type consumed and your lifestyle, Health benefits and risks of chocolate from Medical News today covers some of the factors that need to be considered.

      Published 15 September 2011, Updated 14 April 2022 Referencing Hub articles
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