A new study from the University of Aberdeen and published in the BMJ journal Heart suggests that eating up to 100 grams of chocolate every day may help lower heart disease and stroke risk.

However, according to a press release from the university, there doesn’t seem to be evidence that cutting out chocolate may lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Per the release, the research team includes academics from the Universities of Aberdeen, Manchester, Cambridge and East Anglia, as well as the Lancashire Teaching Hospital, the Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit, Cambridge and the Academic Medical Centre, Amsterdam.

The team’s findings came from studying results of the EPIC-Norfolk study, which tracked the impact of diet on the long-term health of 25,000 people (9,214 men and 11,737 women) in Norfolk, England, using food frequency and lifestyle questionnaires, the release explains.

The research team also carried out a systematic review of the available international published evidence on the links between chocolate and cardiovascular disease involving almost 158,000 people—including participants in the EPIC study, the release continues.

The study notes that while milk chocolate—which is considered to be less “healthy” than dark chocolate—was more frequently eaten by the EPIC-Norfolk participants, the beneficial health effects may extend to this type of chocolate as well, the release says.

The release explains that study results included the following:

Around one in five participants said that they did not eat any chocolate. However, among the others, their daily consumption averaged 7 grams, with some eating up to 100 grams.

Those who consumed more chocolate tended to be younger, and had lower weight (BMI), waist/hip ratio, and systolic blood pressure, inflammatory proteins, diabetes, and performed more regular physical activity—all of which add up to a favorable cardiovascular disease risk profile. The results also linked eating more chocolate to higher energy intake and a diet containing more fat and carbs, and less protein and alcohol.

Compared with those who ate no chocolate, the higher chocolate intake was linked to an 11% lower risk of cardiovascular disease 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, after taking dietary factors into account.

Additionally, the release notes that among the 16,000 people whose inflammatory protein (CRP) level had been measured, those who ate the most chocolate seemed to have an 18% lower risk than those who ate the least. The highest chocolate intake was similarly linked to a 23% lower risk of stroke, even after taking other potential risk factors into account.

According to the release, the researchers also analyzed nine studies in their systematic review—five of which assessed coronary heart disease and stroke outcome.

Per the release, the researchers found that regular chocolate consumption was associated with a significant lower risk of both heart disease and stroke, and it was linked to a 25% lower risk of any episode of cardiovascular disease and a 45% lower risk of associated death.

The researchers caution in the release that this is an observational study, and as such they could draw no definitive conclusions about cause and effect. They also point out that food frequency questionnaires involve a certain amount of recall bias and underestimation of items eaten.

As well, they explain in the release that reverse causation—whereby those with a higher cardiovascular disease risk profile eat less chocolate and foods containing it than those who are healthier—may also help to explain the results.

[Source: University of Aberdeen]