Forget what you have been told about eating chocolate being bad for you. Researchers have found that eating up to 100g of chocolate every day will help to lower the risk of heart disease and strokes.
According research published online in the journal Heart, the scientists surveyed almost 21,000 adults in Norfolk, England, using food frequency and lifestyle questionnaires, monitoring them for an average of almost 12 years. During that time 3,013 (14%) people experienced either an episode of fatal or non-fatal coronary heart disease or stroke.
Around one in five (20%) participants said they did not eat any chocolate, but among the others, daily consumption averaged 7g, with some eating up to 100g.
Higher levels of consumption were associated with younger age and lower weight (BMI), waist: hip ratio, systolic blood pressure, inflammatory proteins, diabetes and more regular physical activity —all of which add up to a favourable cardiovascular disease risk profile.
More chocolate, more carbs, less protein and alcohol
Eating more chocolate was also associated with higher energy intake and a diet containing more fat and carbs and less protein and alcohol.
The calculations showed that compared with those who ate no chocolate higher intake was linked to an 11% lower risk of cardiovascular disease and a 25% lower risk of associated death.
It was also associated with a 9% lower risk of hospital admission or death as a result of coronary heart disease, after taking account of dietary factors.
The highest chocolate intake was similarly associated with a 23% lower risk of stroke, even after taking account of other potential risk factors.
This is an observational study so no definitive conclusions about cause and effect can be drawn. And the researchers point out that food frequency questionnaires do involve a certain amount of recall bias and underestimation of items eaten.
Nevertheless, they add: "Cumulative evidence suggests that higher chocolate intake is associated with a lower risk of future cardiovascular events."
And they point out that as milk chocolate, which is considered to be less "healthy" than dark chocolate, was more frequently eaten by the EPIC-Norfolk participants, the beneficial health effects may extend to this type of chocolate, too.
"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," they suggest.
And they conclude: "There does not appear to be any evidence to say that chocolate should be avoided in those who are concerned about cardiovascular risk."