Change of heart over chocolate

Chocolate may be good for the heart, scientists say, following a large study that found that those who eat more of it are less likely to suffer heart disease and strokes.

Why chocolate lovers should be better off than those who shun it is not clear. It contains antioxidant flavonoids, known to be protective, but also sugar and — especially in its most popular forms — 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 presented at the European Society of Cardiology meeting in Paris and was published online by the British Medical Journal. It was undertaken by Dr Oscar Franco and colleagues from Cambridge University, who wanted to try to establish whether a long-speculated association between eating chocolate and reduced risk of heart disease was real.

The scientists carried out a review of all the relevant and most convincing evidence they could find — seven studies involving more than 100 000 people. They compared the rates of heart disease in those who ate the most chocolate with those who ate the least.

Best quality, best benefits

Five of the seven studies found chocolate — eaten in several forms, from sweet bars to chocolate biscuits and drinking cocoa — to be protective. They concluded that the “highest levels of chocolate consumption were associated with a 37% reduction in stroke compared with lowest ­levels”.

The authors are cautious about the results, warning that chocolate is high in calories (about 500 for every 100 grams) which can cause people to put on weight and lead to heart disease.

“This paper doesn’t really say eat chocolate to improve heart health. Nor do the authors conclude this either. What they seem to say is, those who don’t deny themselves a sweet treat of chocolate — white or brown — have better cardiovascular outcomes,” said Catherine Collins, a dietician at St George’s hospital in London.

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