Wed, Aug 31, 2011 - Page 6 News List

New study finds in favor of indulging in chocolate

THE GUARDIAN, LONDON

High-end decorated chocolate Easter eggs are displayed in the Jicara Chocolat boutique on April 22 in Paris.

Photo: AFP

Chocolate may be good for the heart, scientists have said, following a large study that found that those who eat more of it are less likely to suffer heart disease and strokes.

Why chocolate lovers should be better off than those who shun it is not clear. It contains antioxidant flavonoids, known to be protective, but also sugar and — especially in the forms popular in the UK — milk powder, which are implicated in weight gain. Obesity is a well-established cause of serious heart problems.

Dieticians suggested that eating chocolate might be helpful because people find it relaxing.

The study was presented at the European Society of Cardiology meeting in Paris and was published online by the British Medical Journal. It was undertaken by Oscar Franco and colleagues from Cambridge University, who wanted to try to establish whether a long-speculated association between eating chocolate and reduced risk of heart disease was real.

The scientists carried out a review of all the relevant and most convincing evidence they could find — seven studies involving more than 100,000 people. They compared the rates of heart disease in those who ate the most chocolate with those who ate the least.

Five of the seven studies found chocolate — eaten in a variety of forms, from sweet bars to chocolate biscuits and drinking cocoa — to be protective.

They concluded that the “highest levels of chocolate consumption were associated with a 37 percent reduction in stroke compared with lowest levels.”

The studies did not differentiate between dark, milk and white chocolate. They also found no effect on heart failure.

The authors are cautious about the results, warning that chocolate is high in calories — about 500 for every 100g — which can cause people to put on weight and lead to heart disease. However, they think the possible benefits should be further explored, including ways to reduce the fat and sugar content of chocolate.

“This paper doesn’t really say eat chocolate to improve heart health. Nor do the authors conclude this either. What they seem to say is, those who don’t deny themselves a sweet treat of chocolate — white or brown — have better cardiovascular outcomes,” said Catherine Collins, a dietician at St George’s hospital in London.

“I do feel that the perceived relaxing effect of chocolate ... [is] perhaps akin to modest alcohol consumption — a relaxing treat, perceived as a ‘de-stressor’ and a food whose cost base is so low it’s affordable by virtually all,” she said.

In the UK, she said, any benefit must be almost entirely due to this relaxation effect, because the cocoa content in products sold in Britain is much lower than in -continental chocolate and many people eat it in the shape of chocolate-covered sweet bars, which have very little flavonoid content.

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