A box of chocolate truffles can be a slippery slope to self-loathing. Chocoholics know the the drill: One truffle...two truffles...three truffles in, and then the predictable wave of guilt hits. But that regret might be for naught—unlike a box of donuts or a pint of cookie dough ice cream, chocolate does have some redeeming qualities. And a new study suggests it might even be good for your heart.
This isn't to say all of the fat and sugar in chocolate candies is healthy. It's the cacao beans that offer your ticker a boost.
Cocoa powder: chocolate's key ingredient
The key ingredient in chocolate is cocoa powder, yielded by fermenting, drying, and roasting cacao beans—the seeds of the cacao tree. This tree produces a type of antioxidant called flavonoids, which have been shown to help lower blood pressure, improve blood flow to the brain and heart, prevent blood clots, and fight cell damage. Also, bioactive plant compounds called polyphenols are believed to help protect against heart disease and are healthy for the blood vessels.
Eating chocolate can lower risk for cardiovascular diseases and strokes
The new study, published in England's BMJ Heart Journal today, found that chocolate might actually be heart healthy. Researchers tracked about 21,000 adults over 12 years. What they found was those who ate chocolate were at a lower risk for cardiovascular diseases and strokes than those who didn’t.
17.4 percent of subjects who didn't eat chocolate died of heart disease
According to the Harvard Health blog, 17.4 percent of subjects who didn't eat chocolate died of heart disease compared to only 12 percent of those who did consume chocolate. The latter group ate 16 to 100 grams per day—the median being a little over a standard-sized Hershey bar (43 grams), and equivalent to one to five Godiva truffles.
This was a purely observational study, though. The researchers questioned participants about their eating habits, tracked their health, and made statistical connections, which led to important insights. But without a randomized trial, it's impossible to definitively conclude that chocolate has a direct effect on heart health. It merely shows that consuming it doesn’t increase risks of cardiovascular diseases.
Dark chocolate vs. milk chocolate
And good news for people who don't love intense, dark chocolate—milk chocolate is in the mix, too. The research subjects consumed everything from Mars bars to hot chocolate.
But dark chocolate contains more cocoa, and is therefore richer in flavonoids. It also has less sugar and saturated fat, so it's less fattening than its milky counterpart. So if you’re thinking about indulging in a celebratory chocolate binge, dark is still the best bet. But if you heart milk chocolate, don’t feel bad going for it now and then. Everything in moderation.
Photo credit: Andy Ciordia via Flickr