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4 Things You Need to Know About Chocolate and Healthy Aging

March 27th, 2015

Learn what benefits chocolate may bring and how much chocolate to eat.

Chocolate has been used for various medicinal benefits for thousands of years by many ancient cultures. However, it wasn’t until the 1990s, when a group of Harvard Medical School researchers published a study on the impact of chocolate on the health and longevity of Panama’s Kuna Indians that the modern world really sat up and paid attention to chocolate as something more than an indulgent treat. In recent decades, many studies have sought to shed more light on the health benefits of chocolate. While the picture is still not complete, great strides have been made towards proving what chocolate does for the body, how it does this good work, and how much of what type of chocolate we should eat. We’ve culled some of the highlights of this research to create the following 4 important facts about chocolate and healthy aging.

Chocolate Protects Against Heart Attack and Stroke

While the research on chocolate does not prove a cause and effect relationship, it has documented a clear association between eating chocolate and enjoying improved cardiovascular health. One meta-analysis of seven chocolate studies, recently published in the British Medical Journal, showed that chocolate consumption was associated with a 39 percent reduction in heart disease and a 29 percent reduction in stroke.

Researchers believe that these health benefits of chocolate come from the antioxidant flavonols it contains. These flavonols affect how the body produces nitric oxide, helping to relax blood vessels, keep platelets from sticking together, and improve blood flow to the heart and brain.

Chocolate Linked to Lower BMI

Part of the reason chocolate is so delicious is that it contains a lot of cocoa butter. Unfortunately cocoa butter is also high in fat. This may lead you to assume that eating chocolate is not a good idea if you want to stay slim. In reality, at least one study has linked sparing but regular chocolate consumption to a lower BMI. For each additional weekly indulgence, study subjects showed a further reduction of about 0.2 BMI points.

“Natural” Chocolate is Best

Given that the health benefits of chocolate come from flavonols, the best chocolate to eat is “natural” chocolate that has undergone minimal processing. In most types of chocolate, the cocoa powder has been processed with baking soda to make it less acidic. Unfortunately, processing chocolate in this way destroys up to 80 percent of the flavonol content. Chocolate labeled as “natural” has not been treated with baking soda, so regardless of the cocoa content it will almost certainly contain more flavonols than processed chocolate. The choice of dark chocolate or milk chocolate is much less important than natural versus processed chocolate.

A Little Chocolate Goes a Long Way

If you are thinking of adding chocolate to your healthy aging plan, remember that you only need to eat a little bit of chocolate to reap the benefits. Studies suggest that as little as 6 grams of chocolate per day can protect your heart. That’s a very small amount—not even half a square of your typical chocolate bar.

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