Consumption of up to 100g of chocolate every day is linked to lowered risk of heart disease and stroke, according to UK research.
The finding comes from the EPIC-Norfolk study, which is tracking the impact of diet on the long-term health of 25,000 men and women.
The researchers also carried out a systematic review of previously published evidence on the links between chocolate and cardiovascular disease, involving almost 158,000 people.
The EPIC-Norfolk participants – 9,214 men and 11,737 women – were monitored for an average of almost 12 years.
“Higher chocolate intake is associated with a lower risk of future cardiovascular events”
Around 20% of participants said they did not eat any chocolate, but among the others daily consumption averaged 7g – with some eating up to 100g.
Higher levels of consumption were associated with factors such as lower body mass index, hip ratio, systolic blood pressure, inflammatory proteins, and diabetes —all of which combined to provide a favourable CVD risk profile.
Eating more chocolate was also associated with higher energy intake and a diet containing more fat and carbohydrate, and less protein and alcohol.
The calculations showed that, compared with those who ate no chocolate, higher intake was linked to an 11% lower risk of CVD and a 25% lower risk of associated death. It was also associated with a 9% lower risk of hospital admission or death as a result of coronary heart disease.
The highest chocolate intake was similarly associated with a 23% lower risk of stroke, even after taking account of other potential risk factors.
Of relevant studies included in the systematic review, some found a significantly lower risk of both conditions associated with regular chocolate consumption.
The study authors, from the University of Aberdeen, said: “Cumulative evidence suggests that higher chocolate intake is associated with a lower risk of future cardiovascular events.”
They also pointed out that milk chocolate, often considered to be less healthy than dark chocolate, was more frequently eaten by the EPIC-Norfolk participants.
“This may indicate that not only flavonoids, but also other compounds, possibly related to milk constituents, such as calcium and fatty acids, may provide an explanation for the observed association,” they said in the journal Heart.