It is clear that what we eat plays an important role in good health and disease prevention. While we most often hear about benefits of "health foods" such as fruits or vegetables, one well-loved snack food is proving to be a health source. Some studies have suggested that chocolate and cocoa products have cardiovascular benefits. The benefits may include lowering the risk of high blood pressure, inflammation and blood clot formation.
Researchers in England completed a systematic review to determine what benefits chocolate may have for cardiovascular and metabolic health. The study, published in the British Medical Journal, found that cocoa products were associated with lower rates of cardiovascular disease and stroke.
The systematic review included seven observational studies with 114,009 participants. The included studies examined the relationship between chocolate consumption and risk or cardiovascular or metabolic disease. The studies used either food questionnaires or food diaries completed by participants to measure consumption of chocolate from 8-16 years. The chocolate may have been from candy bars or pieces, in desserts, biscuits, cookies or chocolate drinks. Participants were then divided into low or high chocolate consumption groups. The exact amount of chocolate consumed in each group differed between studies. The review found that compared to those with low chocolate consumption, participants with higher chocolate consumption had:
One trial examined the association between chocolate consumption and risk of diabetes. The trial found that higher levels of chocolate consumption was associated with decreased risk of diabetes but since it is only one observational trial a firm conclusion could be drawn from it.
If you're a chocolate lover, this may be good news. The individual studies were all observational which makes them less reliable since researchers could not control for all factors related to cardiovascular disease. The systematic review method does increase reliability by combining several studies with large number of participants. Since it is a systematic review of observational studies the cardiovascular benefits of chocolate are possible but cannot be considered confirmed.
From this study, it appears that it is possible that chocolate may good for you. Enjoy, but keep in mind that there are limits. Since many chocolate containing products are also high in calories, moderation is still important. Chocolate should only be consumed in healthy amounts as part of a balanced diet.
American Heart Association
Heart and Stroke Foundation
Buitrago-Lopez A, Sanderson J, Johnson L, et al. Chocolate consumption and cardiometabolic disorders: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ. 2011 Aug 26;343:d4488.
Last reviewed November 2011 by Brian P. Randall, MD