Good News at Last: Chocolate Is Good for You! Maybe

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A new British Medical Journal article suggests that indulging in chocolate could lower your risk for heart disease and stroke

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In the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, the British Medical Journal offers some cheery news.

A systematic review and meta-analysis of studies on chocolate and health concludes that the flavonol antioxidants in chocolate reduce the risk for cardiometabolic disorders such as heart disease and stroke--by a whopping one-third.

As the investigators explain, previous research suggests that:

chocolate consumption has a positive influence on human health, with antioxidant, antihypertensive, anti-inflammatory, anti-atherogenic, and anti-thrombotic effects as well as influence on insulin sensitivity, vascular endothelial function, and activation of nitric oxide.

This seems like a lot for one food--let alone candy--to accomplish, but their review of seven studies concludes that people who eat the most chocolate compared to those who eat the least have much lower disease risks.

Wisely, the authors point out that much more research is needed to confirm these benefits, not least because the studies were observational, not clinical trials:

Experimental evidence will be needed before any level of causality can be inferred from the existing findings, and residual confounding could be considered as a potential explanation for the associations observed. Considering the limited data available, any conclusions should be cautious.

As indeed they should. The investigators point out:

The high energy density of commercially available chocolate (about 2100 kJ (500 kcal)/100 g) means excessive consumption will probably induce weight gain, a risk factor for hypertension, dyslipidaemia, diabetes, and cardiometabolic disorders in general. [Oops. Chocolate is fattening]

Although our studies included populations with and without prior cardiovascular disease, the small numbers meant we could not evaluate whether the associations found would differ in terms of primary or secondary prevention. [Oops, small numbers]

...We found no papers studying the relation between chocolate consumption and the risk of developing metabolic syndrome, and we identified only one study showing the relation between diabetes and chocolate intake (a positive association, especially in men). [Oops, chocolate makes diabetes worse]

...Only two of the studies included evaluated the potential association of chocolate intake with the risk of heart failure. Both studies found no significant effect. [Oops, chocolate is irrelevant to heart failure]

My conclusion: a little chocolate is delightful. A lot is not.

As in all matters pertaining to diet, everything in moderation.



This post also appears on Food Politics.
Image: FotoosVanRobin/flickr

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Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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