Heart Disease

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Heart Smart Living

Cardiologist, author, and heart health expert Dr. Sarah Samaan offers advice on how to live a heart smart life.

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The Heart Health Benefits of Chocolate

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heart-shaped chocolate
No matter how strong our resolve, it is hard to resist the siren call of chocolate. Chocolate is practically our national pastime, with nearly half of all Americans indulging at least twice a week. This once-taboo food has been pardoned by the food police in recent years, as evidence of its health benefits has emerged. Thanks to cocoa-friendly scientists, we now know that dark chocolate is a very good source of antioxidants. Antioxidants are substances that occur naturally in certain foods that help to protect our arteries against injury and cholesterol buildup. Chocolate may also reduce the risk of blood clots by making our blood platelets less sticky, and may even help our blood vessels to relax, lowering blood pressure.

Last year, two large scale studies reported on the effects of chocolate on blood pressure, heart attack risk, and congestive heart failure. In Germany, Dr. Brian Buijsse and colleagues evaluated the health and diets of nearly 20,000 people between the ages of 35 and 65, and followed them for about ten years. They reported their findings in The European Heart Journal. The good news? Chocolate lovers had about 25 percent fewer heart attacks and neatly 50 percent less strokes than those who hardly ever touched the stuff. The fine print? The amount of chocolate eaten each day by the high consumers was on the average only about a quarter of an ounce. Eating more than that can add extra calories and saturated fat, both of which we know to be detrimental to heart health. Unfortunately, the researchers did not tease out the effects of dark chocolate compared to milk chocolate, but we know from other studies that dark chocolate offers the greatest amount of heart healthy nutrients.

A second study, authored by Harvard researcher Elizabeth Mostofsky and colleagues, evaluated over 30,000 Swedish women for about nine years, and found some very interesting trends. In those women whose diet included somewhere between one ounce of chocolate per month to three ounces of chocolate each week, there was a substantial reduction in heart failure risk. More than that actually increased the risk, probably because of excess calories and fats. Since milk chocolate is the most popular variety of chocolate in Sweden, the researchers speculated that their study may have underestimated the benefits of dark chocolate.

The take home message? Dark chocolate in small amounts (about a quarter of one once daily) is a heart-healthy treat. As long as you take the calories and fat into account, and don’t think of it as a nutritional freebie, this is a little luxury that you can feel good about. 

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Tags: Diet and Heart Health

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About the Author


MD, FACC

Dr. Samaan is an acclaimed cardiologist, writer, and heart health educator.

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