Is eating chocolate once a week good for your heart?

By June Shannon Nutrition News   |   27th Jul 2020

The way 2020 is panning out we could all do with a bit of good news, and a new study seems to provide just that, with the suggestion that eating chocolate once a week is good for your heart. But is it?

A new study published today (Thursday 23 July 2020) in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, a journal of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) suggests that eating chocolate at least once a week is linked with a reduced risk of heart disease.

For the study, researchers conducted a combined analysis of a number of studies from the past five decades examining the association between eating chocolate and coronary artery disease (the blockage of the coronary arteries). The analysis included six studies with a total of 336,289 participants who reported their chocolate consumption.

During a median follow-up of nearly nine years, 14,043 participants developed coronary artery disease and 4,667 had a heart attack (when coronary artery disease progresses and the flow of blood to the heart is suddenly blocked).

Compared with consuming chocolate less than once a week, eating chocolate more than once a week was associated with an 8 per cent decreased risk of coronary artery disease.

“Moderate amounts of chocolate seem to protect the coronary arteries but it’s likely that large quantities do not.”

Dr Chayakrit Krittanawong , Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas

“Our study suggests that chocolate helps keep the heart’s blood vessels healthy,” said study author Dr Chayakrit Krittanawong of Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas in the US.

“In the past, clinical studies have shown that chocolate is beneficial for both blood pressure and the lining of blood vessels,” he continued. “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?”

However, the authors noted that there were a number of limitations to this study including that people in the study were eating different types of chocolate, and lifestyle factors such as exercise and physical activity were not taken into account.

Dr Krittanawong said, “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).”

" Eating healthily is not about excluding or including single foods but about eating a wide range of foods in the right proportions and above all enjoying your food,"

Sarah Noone, Dietitian, The Irish Heart Foundation

He noted that the study did not examine whether any particular type of chocolate is more beneficial and whether there is an ideal portion size.

“Chocolate appears promising for prevention of coronary artery disease, but more research is needed to pinpoint how much and what kind of chocolate could be recommended,” he said.

While it’s not clear how much chocolate is optimal, Dr Krittanawong warned against overeating.

He said, “Moderate amounts of chocolate seem to protect the coronary arteries but it’s likely that large quantities do not.”

He added that the calories, sugar, milk, and fat in commercially available products needed to be considered particularly in people with diabetes and those living with obesity.

" If you like chocolate, have some every now and then as part of a balanced diet just because you like it.  Eaten too frequently, it is an unhealthy choice.”

Sarah Noone, Dietitian, The Irish Heart Foundation

According to Irish Heart Foundation dietitian Sarah Noone, “although the study suggests that eating chocolate helps to keep our hearts blood vessels healthy, it has a number of limitations. The study didn’t take into account what other things the participants were eating or the risk factors for heart disease the participants may have had. Therefore the results are not conclusive enough for us to recommend eating chocolate for health.”

“We know that cocoa beans, an ingredient in chocolate, may contain beneficial compounds. However, the potential health benefit of some compounds in chocolate has to be weighed against the fact that, when we eat chocolate it is also high in sugar, saturated fat, and calories and too much can result in excess weight gain, a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. It’s also important to note that the components thought to be beneficial in chocolate such as flavonoids and polyphenols are not unique to chocolate but are also found in lots of other foods like fruit and vegetables.”

“Rather than making chocolate a ‘healthy option’ it is important to remember that eating healthily is not about excluding or including single foods but about eating a wide range of foods in the right proportions and above all enjoying your food. So, if you like chocolate, have some every now and then as part of a balanced diet just because you like it.  Eaten too frequently, it is an unhealthy choice.”

We are here for you

The Irish Heart Foundation’s nurse support line is available five days a week. Anyone living with heart disease and stroke who has concerns or questions about the coronavirus can contact the nurse support line on 01 668 5001 or support@irishheart.ie.

The Irish Heart Foundation’s new heart support group is on Facebook. Anyone who lives with heart failure or another heart condition or has a family member living with a heart condition can join here

The Irish Heart Foundation runs 21 stroke support groups and 5 heart failure groups around the country. All these groups have moved to telephone and online support. For more information, see here.

The Irish Heart Foundation in conjunction with the HSE National Stroke Programme, has launched a new telephone support service for stroke patients who have recently been discharged from hospital. For more information, see here.

Please support our work

If you found this article helpful and would like to donate to the Irish Heart Foundation please see here.

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chocolate cholesterol dietitian heart disease high blood pressure nutrition research stroke

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