This Fourth of July, the federal government is urging you to consider that S’mores are less. They are recommending that instead of grilling marshmallows, you grill more fruit. While there is no debating that there needs to be more fruit and veg in our current dietary approach; there is something sacrosanct about a little sweet chocolate treat on the holidays.
Many previous studies have shown the many cardiovascular and neurological benefits of occasional chocolate consumption. Now a recent study prospectively asked the question; “What is the association between chocolate intake and the risk of future cardiovascular events?”
As part of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer (EPIC) research group, a subgroup of almost 21,000 men and women had their chocolate intake quantified for over a decade.
Despite the common perception that is often the fairer sex that consumes a fair amount of the chocolate, the highest chocolate consumption was found among men. Higher consumption of chocolate was also found in those who are more likely to smoke, had a higher use of alcohol and consumed a greater caloric intake. This group was also more active and were leaner with a, lower body mass index then those that consumed less chocolate. They also had less diabetes.
In the group consuming the greatest amount of chocolate ((16-99 g/day), there was a 12% reduction in the risk of developing coronary heart disease. The risk for stroke and cardiovascular disease together was reduced by 23% compared to those that did not eat any chocolate
A meta-analysis looking at nine studies with over 150,000 people reached similar conclusions: “Cumulative evidence suggests that higher chocolate intake is associated with a lower risk of future cardiovascular events.” In other words, as the authors conclude “There does not appear to be any evidence to say that chocolate should be avoided in those who are concerned about cardiovascular risk.”
Although the exact mechanism remains uncertain, the putative beneficial value may be derived from bioflavonoids that are known antioxidants and act to reduce the oxidation of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL or “bad” cholesterol) and improve vascular tone, function and health. The amount in this study corresponds to anywhere from ½ to 4 ounces of chocolate.
So while Uncle Sam continues to berate us that s’more is less; at least this holiday you can feel good about a little chocolate drizzle and that grilled pineapple. The darker the better. Every now and then, the dark side is sweet.
Shing Kwok, C., Boekholdt, S. M., Lentjes, M. A., Loke, Y. K., Luben, R. N., Yeong, J. K., . . . Khaw, K.-T. (2015). Habitual chocolate consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease among healthy men and women. Heart , doi:10.1136/heartjnl-2014-307050 .