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The truth about chocolate


WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

It is news that many people welcome when researchers tell us chocolate may be beneficial for some health conditions. However, experts at the British Dietetic Association are worried some of us may not read beyond the headlines and think a selection box is a healthy option.

Chocolate myth busting

It is true that there has been high quality research which has suggested that chocolate may have some healthy properties - but in certain circumstances, for some conditions, and often with a certain type of chocolate and portion size.

First, some of the headlines about chocolate you may have seen:

Heart disease

For example, in 2011 we reported on a study from the British Medical Journal (BMJ) that found eating large amounts of chocolate seems to be associated with a reduction in the risk of heart disease by about a third. However, the authors stressed their findings should be interpreted with caution because eating too much commercially available chocolate might also be damaging to heart health.

Cholesterol

When it comes to the health benefits of eating chocolate, dark, not white chocolate, is the clear winner when it comes to lowering cholesterol, according to research presented to the Experimental Biology 2012 medical conference in 2012.

US researchers asked a group of 31 men and women to eat 50g of dark or white chocolate every day for 15 days.

Compared to those who ate white chocolate, those eating either dark chocolate had:

  • Lower blood sugar levels
  • Improved LDL or 'bad' cholesterol
  • Improved HDL or 'good' cholesterol

Heart attack

Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine research in the US found that blood platelets clotted more slowly in people who had eaten chocolate than in those who had not. This is significant because when platelets clump, a clot can form, and when the clot blocks a blood vessel, it can lead to a heart attack.

Stroke

A Swedish study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that eating about two chocolate bars a week appeared to help women reduce their risk of stroke.

Those who ate the most chocolate were protected slightly more from strokes caused by haemorrhage than strokes caused by obstruction such as blood clots.

Blood pressure and insulin sensitivity

Researchers in Italy fed 15 healthy people either three ounces of dark chocolate or the same amount of white chocolate - which contains no flavanol phytochemicals - for 15 days. They found that insulin resistance (a risk factor for diabetes) was significantly lowered in those who ate the dark chocolate. Systolic blood pressure (the first number in a blood pressure reading), measured daily, was also lower in the group eating dark chocolate.

Arterial blood flow

Healthy men who consume flavanol-rich cocoa may see improvements in the flow of blood through their arteries, according to one study. The researchers found that when healthy men consumed the flavanol-rich cocoa, the ability of their blood vessels to relax improved significantly. Arterial blood flow is important for cardiovascular health.

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