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Is chocolate good for your heart?

By Anastasia Climan, RDN, CD-N Feb 02, 2023 • 3 min

Anyone who’s unwrapped a chocolate bar or three has tried to justify that it’s not that bad for them. The good news is they may be right.

Studies show that chocolate has several properties beneficial to your health. But understanding what type and how much to eat can make the difference between helping or hurting your heart.

It’s all about the flavonoids

You may think of chocolate as just another dessert, but there’s more to your favorite chocolate bar than sweet, yummy goodness. Chocolate has beneficial plant compounds called flavonoids, which offer antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that help protect your heart against damage and stress. There’s evidence that flavonoids improve the health of blood vessels and lower blood pressure.

Since flavonoids come from the cocoa bean (not the added sugar or fat in many candy bars), darker chocolate gives you more bang for your buck than milk chocolate. Check the label and opt for products with a higher percentage of cocoa. If you’re accustomed to super sweet milk chocolate, the bitterness of dark chocolate can take a little getting used to. But considering the known health benefits, attempting the switch is worth a try.

In fact, dark chocolate is so rich in these health-promoting compounds, it provides more flavonoids than many well-known superfoods, including apples, black tea, cranberry juice or even red wine. While you can’t live on chocolate alone, you can certainly find space for it in a nutritious and satisfying eating plan.

How much chocolate should I eat?

Despite the health benefits of dark chocolate, it’s easy to overdo it. An analysis of 14 studies found that less than 100 grams per week or less is a good goal, with 45 grams being the ideal amount. This level of chocolate intake appears to help reduce the risk of serious heart problems, including heart attacks, stroke and heart failure for some people.

For reference, one standard Hershey’s Kiss is 4.2 grams. So, 100 grams equals just under 24 Kisses per week or 3–4 per day.

Another long-term study observed that people who consumed at least 5 grams of chocolate per day had a lower risk of heart disease death, perhaps explained in part by chocolate’s blood pressure-lowering effects.

However, eating a lot of chocolate can start to have ill effects on your heart and overall health. Chocolate contains added sugar, and too much added sugar can promote unhealthy weight gain, diabetes, inflammation and tooth decay — all known risk factors for heart disease. But brushing your teeth, staying active and enjoying chocolate in moderation can help you savor the sweetness of life with a healthy heart.

Published February 2023.

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