Chocolate may be good for the heart, say scientists cautiously, following a large study which found that those who eat more of it are less likely to suffer heart disease and strokes. However, why chocolate-lovers should be better off than those who shun it is not altogether clear. While it contains antioxidant flavonoids, known to be protective, it also contains sugar and milk powder, which are implicated in weight gain. Obesity is a well-established cause of serious heart problems. Dieticians suggested that eating chocolate might be helpful because people find it relaxing.
The study was undertaken by Dr Oscar Franco and colleagues from Cambridge University. The authors are cautious about the results, warning that chocolate contains high calories —around 500 for every 100 grams — which can cause people to put on weight that might lead to heart diseases. But they think the possible benefits should be further explored, including ways to reduce the fat and sugar content of chocolate.
“I do feel that the perceived relaxing effect of chocolate (which is recorded in studies as being as soon as the taste and ‘mouthfeel’ of chocolate is experienced, before the product has hit the intestine and contributed to blood levels of sugar/serotonin) is a contributor —perhaps akin to modest alcohol consumption — a relaxing treat, perceived as a ‘de-stressor’ and a food whose cost base is low,” said Catherine Collins, a dietician at St George’s Healthcare NHS Trust.
Other scientists were also cautious regarding the findings. Tom Sanders, professor of nutrition and dietetics and head of diabetes at the School of Medicine at King’s College London, said, “The main problem with chocolate is overindulgence and calories. A little bit of chocolate is okay, but the mega-slabs are fuelling obesity in the overweight.” Victoria Taylor, Senior Heart Health Dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, said, “We can’t start advising people to eat lots of chocolate based on this research. If you want to reduce your heart disease risk, there are much better places to start. You can still eat chocolate as part of a balanced diet, but moderation is key because it is usually packed with saturated fat and calories.”