There’s an old standard for judging what doctors really think: What do they do themselves? Many doctors will apply something to their own health long before they’d recommend it to patients. This makes good sense: Your doctor wants to err on the side of caution when it comes to giving you health advice.
At this point, though, it’s a good bet that your doctor, and particularly your cardiologist, eats a small amount of chocolate every day, much as they might take a baby aspirin. That’s because many years of research is beginning to build to a consensus: Chocolate is good for your heart and your blood vessels. People who eat chocolate experience less heart disease, less heart attacks, and less strokes. While dark chocolate has gotten most of the positive attention, some recent studies seem to indicate that all varieties of chocolate made with cocoa powder (white chocolate won’t work) are heart-healthy.
Now, this isn’t a reason to throw caution to the wind and have a pint of chocolate ice cream with fudge sauce. No one knows exactly why chocolate is so good for you, though it is probably a result of two important nutritional elements in chocolate. First, cocoa contains the most potent natural antioxidant compounds of any food. And, second, dry cocoa powder is one of the best nutritional sources of magnesium.
Here’s just a sampling of what the research tells us about the value of chocolate for our heart health:
- People who eat chocolate more frequently (not in larger amounts) tend to weigh less than those who eat it less often.
- People who eat more chocolate have about 30% less heart disease and strokes compared to people who don’t eat chocolate.
- In one study, researchers gave men dark chocolate and found it improved the circulation in their heart, whereas white chocolate had no such effect.
- People who ate chocolate more than twice per week had over 30% less atherosclerotic plaque – one of the main causes and symptoms of heart disease – no matter their sex, age, calorie intake, smoking or diabetes status.
- Another study found that people who eat chocolate more than five times per week had 50% less heart disease than people who don’t eat chocolate.
- Chocolate lowers all the big heart disease risk factors: cholesterol, blood pressure, and inflammation.
- Chocolate improves sugar metabolism in diabetics. (This obviously wouldn’t be true for large amounts, and dark chocolate would be better than milk chocolate. Straight cocoa powder would probably be best, in fact. Diabetics don’t need any extra sugar.)
In other words, there are lots of good reasons to eat chocolate regularly – but no good reasons to overdo it. And, of course, eating chocolate works much better if you also eat a diet rich in plant foods and fiber, exercise regularly, and manage your stress.