Ah, how times change. Just a few years ago, chocolate was undoubtedly in the junk food category, yet a flurry of recent research has confirmed its benefits to cardiovascular health. The latest is a study from Sweden published last month (1) that showed that higher chocolate consumption cut men’s stroke risk by 17%. And it didn’t need to be much — just an average of about 2 ounces per week, compared to non-consumers. The key seems to be the flavonoids in cocoa: compounds that have antioxidant activity, and improve endothelial function (the inner lining of large blood vessels).
Prior research showed cardiovascular benefits from dark chocolate, which have a higher cocoa content (55-90%) than milk chocolate (30%). So for maximal benefit, reach for the dark chocolate. This also avoids the high amounts of sugar and saturated fat in milk chocolate, which can contribute to obesity and metabolic syndrome.
It might take time to get used to the less sweet taste of dark chocolate, but with small amounts (1/2 – 1 ounce per day), your palate will adjust. My advice? Become a chocolate snob. Buy good quality dark chocolate, and really focus in and enjoy that little tidbit, rather than cramming down a whole bar of cheap milk chocolate.
1. Chocolate consumption and risk of stroke: A prospective cohort of men and meta-analysis. Neurology. 2012;79:1223-1229. Published online August 29, 2012.