Cardiologist, author, and heart health expert Dr. Sarah Samaan offers advice on how to live a heart smart life.See all posts »
Chocolate and Heart Health: It's Not Just for Women!
For many women, chocolate is the ultimate comfort food. In fact, in a study published in the scientific journal Appetite in 1999, Dr. Deborah Zellner and colleagues found that about 45 percent of American women and 17 percent of American men admit to chocolate cravings. (Interestingly, there did not appear to be a gender difference amongst Spaniards.)
Although chocolate used to be considered taboo for heart patients, a sweet collection of studies over the past ten years have found that those who regularly indulge in bite-sized portions of dark chocolate appear to have a lower risk for heart attacks, stroke, congestive heart failure, and high blood pressure. Dark chocolate is a source of some very powerful antioxidants which appear to help protect the arteries and reduce the risk for blood clots.
Until a recent report from Dr. Susanna Larsson and colleagues (published in the medical journal Neurology), most of the research on chocolate has focused on women. In Dr. Larsson’s study, over 37,000 Swedish men filled out a baseline food questionnaire that included information about chocolate. The men were followed for more than 10 years and medical data was collected throughout that period of time. At the end of the study, those men who ate the most chocolate (a little over 2 ounces per week) were 17 percent less likely to have suffered a stroke than those who never indulged at all. The researchers also analyzed the results of five other studies and found a similarly beneficial effect.
Although this study did not specify the type of chocolate the men enjoyed, dark chocolate appears to have the edge over milk chocolate. That’s probably because the addition of milk neutralizes the heart protective antioxidants. For a heart healthy treat, look for dark chocolate with a cacao content of at least 70 percent. Enjoy your chocolate in moderation, since the calories and saturated fat still count.
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