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Is Eating Chocolate For Heart Disease Prevention A Myth?

Chocolate is one of the most popular food in the world. But very often, it is being accused of unhealthy because it is high in calorie, high in sugar, and high in fat. These are factors that can cause overweight, which can lead to several health issues, including heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke.

On the other hand, findings revealed by research during the past decade have suggested that chocolate have potential cardiovascular benefits, though cardiologists had found those reports sceptic. Sufficient evidence has surfaced recently to convince most cardiologists regarding the potential cardiovascular benefits of chocolate. Several studies, generally observational, have linked chocolate consumption to reduced high blood pressure.

In 2015, a paper published online June 16 in the British Journal ëHeartí reported that middle-aged and older adults who eat up to 3.5 ounces of chocolate a day seem to have lower rates of heart disease than those who do not eat chocolate. The researchers looked at the health of a total of 20,951 men and women in the EPIC-Norfolk study (United Kingdom) over a period of nearly 12 years. It was found that people who ate the most chocolate a day (up to 3.5 ounces) had a 14 percent lower risk of heart disease and a 23 percent lower risk of stroke than those who ate no chocolate.

The data was then combined with 9 other studies that examined the relationship between chocolate consumption and heart disease involving 157,809 people. Their analysis indicated that people who ate the most chocolate had a 29 percent lower risk of heart disease and a 21 percent reduced risk of stroke, compared to those who ate the least. They also were 45 percent less likely to die from heart disease, heart attack or stroke.

Another study published April 2016 in the ëBritish Journal of Nutritioní found that eating 100 grams of chocolate a day could help prevent diabetes and insulin resistance. Insulin sensitivity is a risk factor of cardiovascular disease. The study was conducted by researchers from the Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH), the University of Warwick Medical School, the University of South Australia and the University of Maine.

So, does this mean that people can just eat as much chocolate as they love to? The answer is probably no! While most of the studies do suggest a convincing link between chocolate consumption and improvement in cardiac health, they do not prove that eating chocolate directly benefit the heart.

Being made of cocoa, chocolate is rich in flavanols, a sub-class of flavonoids. According to health experts, flavonoids can reduce inflammation, make blood vessels elastic, improve insulin sensitivity, reduce the stickiness of platelets and hence lower blood pressure. All these effects may cut the risk of coronary artery disease, heart attacks, strokes, and even cancer.

Unfortunately, most of the chocolate and cocoa products available have been processed to remove most of the flavanols to reduce the bitterness. Hence, there is no way consumers can know whether the chocolate they bought has any health benefit, unless manufacturers begin labeling their products with flavanol content.

Meanwhile, chocolate is made from cocoa butter that is made up of equal amounts of oleic acid, stearic and palmitic acids. Oleic acid is a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat also found in olive oil), but both stearic and palmitic acids are forms of saturated fat that can raise LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and the risk of heart disease. Though research has shown that stearic acid appears to have a neutral effect on cholesterol, neither raising nor lowering it, and palmitic acid only makes up one-third of the fat calories in chocolate, it does not mean that one can just eat the dark chocolate at will.

Eating moderate amount, say 1 ounce, of chocolate, preferably dark chocolate. a few times a week should be fine. Dark chocolate is believed to contain more flavanols than lighter chocolate. People, however, should not forget to eat other flavonoid-rich foods such as apples, red wine, tea onions and cranberries.




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