Sweet! Eating chocolate is good for your heart, blood vessels

BRUSSELS, Belgium — Good news, chocolate fans! A new study finds you don’t have to feel guilty about having dessert after dinner. Researchers say eating chocolate at least once a week can improve blood vessel health, reducing the risk of heart disease.

The report in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology notes that previous studies link chocolate to improvements in both blood pressure and the lining of blood vessels.

“I wanted to see if it affects the blood vessels supplying the heart (the coronary arteries) or not. And if it does, is it beneficial or harmful?” says Baylor College of Medicine’s Dr. Chayakrit Krittanawong in a media release.

To see if chocolate’s benefits extend to the heart, researchers examined studies spanning the last five decades. The report looks at over 336,000 patients, searching for links between how much chocolate they eat and coronary artery disease — blockages in arteries supplying the heart with blood.

All of those studies generally followed up with patients every nine years. Researchers find just over 14,000 participants developed coronary artery disease. Another 4,667 had a heart attack, which occurs when blood flow to the heart is suddenly blocked.

The delicious verdict on chocolate

Study authors reveal people who eat chocolate at least once a week have an eight-percent lower risk of coronary artery disease compared to participants who eat chocolate less frequently. Dr. Krittanawong believes the natural treat contains many properties which may be contributing to this benefit.

“Chocolate contains heart healthy nutrients such as flavonoids, methylxanthines, polyphenols and stearic acid which may reduce inflammation and increase good cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein or HDL cholesterol),” the researcher adds.

Although the study takes a deep dive into chocolate consumption, the research doesn’t draw any distinctions between the types of chocolate people are eating. The team notes more studies are needed to see if people are getting more or less benefits from dark, milk, or even white chocolates.

While all the evidence points to great health benefits in chocolate, the study cautions against overindulging. Researchers note that many candy bars contain other products which can hinder chocolate’s natural goodness.

“Moderate amounts of chocolate seem to protect the coronary arteries but it’s likely that large quantities do not,” Krittanawong explains. “The calories, sugar, milk, and fat in commercially available products need to be considered, particularly in diabetics and obese people.”

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