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Enjoy Some Healthy Dark Chocolate

August 30, 2011 No Comments by Scott Isaacs, M.D.

According to the World Health Organization, there has been a substantial increase in the number of people with cardiometabolic diseases such as diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart attacks and strokes.  By 2030, it is estimated that one in three people will be obese and more than 23 million people will die from cardiovascular disease. The epidemic of type 2 diabetes continues to increase. Many research studies have shown that regular dietary intake of plant-derived foods reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke. Among healthy foods, chocolate might be one of the most important mediators of disease prevention.

Not only does chocolate taste good, but it is good for your health. Chocolate products and cocoa have been enjoyed by humans for centuries. A new study published in the British Medical Journal shows that eating chocolate is associated with a substantial reduction in the risk of cardiometabolic diseases including type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart attacks and strokes.  It is has been shown that there is a beneficial effect of cocoa on blood pressure, insulin resistance, and blood vessel health. A variety of potential mechanisms through which cocoa might exert its benefits on cardiovascular health have been proposed, including antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Cocoa products contain polyphenols which are a potent antioxidant compounds. The health benefits of chocolate are mediated by the high content of polyphenols in cocoa products which subsequently lead to improvements in blood vessel function and beneficial effects on blood pressure, insulin resistance, and cholesterol.

The study in the British Medical Journal was an analysis of 53 studies on chocolate which have been published over the past few years. The researchers found that higher amounts of chocolate consumption were associated with a 30% reduction in the risk of cardiometabolic disorders. This benefit was seen for cardiovascular disease (37% reduction), diabetes (31% reduction), and stroke (29% reduction).

These findings are not surprising. In fact there have been many studies in the past demonstrating the health benefits of chocolate. Unfortunately, most chocolate products are high in sugar and fat and low in actual cocoa. I want to emphasize that you should not eat a lot of high calorie, high fat chocolate. I recommend eating a few squares of dark chocolate (70% cocoa or higher) as a reward for having a healthy lifestyle.

The full text version of this study study is available for free (BMJwww.bmj.comBMJ 2011; 343:d4488 doi: 10.1136/bmj.d4488, published 29 August 2011).

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