How many people have a sweet tooth? Whether it’s craving dessert every night or salivating at the sight of cookies and candy, many people can’t keep their hands off of sweet treats. But more and more research has brought to light the dangers of added sugar, urging us to steer clear of it altogether. Failing to at least reduce your intake of added sugar may raise your risk of dying of heart disease even if you aren’t overweight. This is important to note, given the fact that chocolate contains a lot of sugar. Many health experts believe we should keep our sugar intake to a minimum, and that includes chocolate. Of c ourse, we are advocates for dark, organic and fair trade chocolate, with no dairy.
But where does that leave all the sweet tooths out there? Enter chocolate.
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While added sugars are associated with raising your risk of heart disease, eating up to 100 g of chocolate every day is linked to a lowered heart disease and stroke risk according to research published online in the journal Heart.
The researchers concluded that there is no evidence for cutting out chocolate to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. Their base findings on nearly 21,000 adults taking part in the EPIC-Norfolk study, which is reviewing how diet impacts the long term health of 25,000 men and women in Norfolk, England, utilized food frequency and lifestyle questionnaires for their findings. They also completed a systematic review of the available international published evidence on the links between chocolate and cardiovascular disease, which included the EPIC study participants of almost 158,000 people.
The EPIC study participants were tracked for almost 12 years, during which time 14 percent showed either an episode of fatal or non-fatal coronary heart disease or stroke. About 20 percent of participants claimed they did not consume chocolate, while the others consumed an average of 7 g daily, with some eating up to 100 g.
The consumption of higher levels of chocolate was associated with younger age, lower weight (BMI), waist: hip ratio, systolic blood pressure, inflammatory proteins, and diabetes, along with more regular physical activity. All of these attribute to a healthy cardiovascular disease risk profile.
Many people rely on caffeinated beverages filled with added sugars to give them a boost of energy in the morning and throughout the day, but the study found that eating more chocolate was associated with higher energy intake.
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The researchers calculated that higher intake of chocolate was associated with an 11 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease and a 25 percent lower risk of associated death. It was also linked to a 9 percent lower risk of hospital admission or death in relation to coronary heart disease.
Of the 16,000 people whose inflammatory protein level had been measured, the participants who consumed the most chocolate had an 18 percent lower risk than those who ate the least. The highest chocolate consumption was also linked with a 23 percent lower risk of stroke.
Five of the nine relevant studies in the systematic review—each reviewing coronary heart disease and stroke outcome—found there to be a noteworthy reduction in the risk of both conditions in association with regular chocolate consumption. Furthermore, it was linked to a 25 percent lower risk of any episode of cardiovascular disease and even a 45 percent lower risk of death.
The researchers of this observational study do point out that, because it involved food frequency questionnaires, with a certain amount of recall bias and the potential for an underestimation of items eaten, no definitive conclusions can be drawn at this time. They also say reverse causation could play a part, in which those with a higher cardiovascular disease risk profile eat less chocolate and foods containing it than those who are healthier.
Nevertheless, the researchers admit that “cumulative evidence suggests that higher chocolate intake is associated with a lower risk of future cardiovascular events.” And while milk chocolate is considered to be less healthy than dark chocolate, the researchers say the health benefits may extend to this type of chocolate as well.
“This may indicate that not only flavonoids, but also other compounds, possibly related to milk constituents, such as calcium and fatty acids, may provide an explanation for the observed association,” the researchers explain. “There does not appear to be any evidence to say that chocolate should be avoided in those who are concerned about cardiovascular risk.”