Chocolate lovers, take heart. So to speak. A recent study conducted on 20,000 Germans for more than a decade revealed that more than a third of the test subjects exhibited reduced risks of heart attacks and strokes when they consumed moderate amounts of chocolate on a daily basis.
Of course, as with most things in life, there’s a catch. According to Brian Buijsse, a nutritional epidemiologist at the German Institute of Human Nutrition in Nuthetal, and the lead researcher of the study, “If you want to eat chocolate, keep it at low amounts and leave out something else in the diet, preferably something also rich in calories. If you chose chocolate rather than a bag of potato chips, that’s probably better, because the chips don’t have any nutritional benefit other than the calories.” Buijsse recently published the results of the study in the European Heart Journal.
And what exactly are “low amounts”? The ideal portion seems to be about 6 grams per day, or roughly enough chocolate to make 2 Hershey’s Kisses. To a chocolate addict, this might seem to be more temptation than cure.
Surprisingly, the cardiovascular benefits of chocolate seemed to outweigh those of fruit and vegetables. Moreover, according to the study, the people who are the most avid chocolate consumers are also the least enthusiastic consumers of fruit and vegetables. (Was a 10 year study really necessary to come up with that startling revelation?)
Apparently not all chocolate is created equal, however. The study seemed to indicate that the darker the chocolate, the richer the benefits. Dark chocolate contains more cocoa and flavanols than lighter varieties. According to Buijsse, flavanols might help relax the smooth muscle cells that line blood vessels, which, in turn, could help reduce the type of clotting that leads to heart attacks and strokes.
“The substances in cocoa, flavanols, are making the blood vessels more elastic and less stiff,” Buijsse said. “White chocolate doesn’t do anything, probably because it doesn’t contain any flavanols.”