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Mixed Blessings of Chocolate

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Recent studies published in the British Medical Journal have affirmed that chocolate consumption is associated with a 39 per cent reduction in cardiovascular disease and a 29 per cent reduction in stroke. Though these studies do not prove that eating chocolate directly improves cardiac health, they do demonstrate that there is a convincing association between both.

During the past decade, several studies have reported on the potential cardiovascular benefits of chocolate. But cardiologists tended to regard the earliest of such reports with a healthy degree of scepticism, since it is well known that lifestyle choices that improve cardiovascular health are typically supposed to be unappealing, difficult or painful. For most people, chocolate does not meet any of these criteria.

Virtually every study that has examined the issue has reported an association between chocolate consumption and cardiovascular health. Several of these studies have shown that chocolate consumption is associated with reduced blood pressure. At least one study showed that women who ate chocolate had a significantly reduced risk of developing heart failure.

A growing number of cardiologists now admit to the potential cardiovascular benefits of chocolate. Investigators theorise that it is the flavonols in chocolate that cause vascular improvement. These flavonols can make blood vessels more elastic, improve insulin sensitivity, reduce the “stickiness” of platelets and reduce blood pressure.

Dark chocolate contains more flavonols than light ones, so most of the published studies have reported on dark chocolate. However, the recent studies found that chocolate in any form, dark or light – in the form of chocolate bars, chocolate drinks or chocolate confections – was associated with cardiovascular benefit.

However there are some worries. Notably, 100 grams of chocolate equals about 500 calories. So, adding 100 grams of chocolate to your daily diet (the upper dose suggested by available studies) will cause you to gain about a pound of weight per week. Such a result does not seem like it would really be heart-healthy. If you religiously adhere to one of those popular but mutually exclusive dietary philosophies (that is, low fat vs. low carbohydrates), be aware that chocolate products come packed with both fat and carbohydrates. It therefore violates both of these dietary dogmas and its consumption could reduce you to a state of dietary sin.