Study: Chocolate May Keep Your Heart Safe

New research says chocolate may help prevent atrial fibrillation.

Your sweet tooth may be keeping your heart healthy, according to a new study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The research, published Tuesday in the journal Heart, suggests that regularly eating small amounts of chocolate may help protect your heart from atrial fibrillation (AF), a common type of irregular heartbeat that’s linked to stroke, heart failure, dementia and cognitive decline, and even death. Even better? The more often you eat chocolate, the lower your risk seems to be.

Compared to those who ate less than an ounce of chocolate per month, individuals who ate one to three ounces per month had a 10 percent lower risk of AF; those who ate an ounce per week had a 17 percent lower risk; and those who ate two to six ounces per week had a 20 percent lower risk. (Eating one or more servings per day, however, levels off to a roughly 16 percent lower risk, so don’t go too crazy.)

The study looked at data from more than 55,000 Danish men and women. Participants were recruited in the ’90s, and researchers then tracked their health conditions and diets for an average of 13.5 years. Almost 3,350 people developed AF during the follow-up period.

While it’s tricky to draw concrete conclusions from this type of research—it’s difficult to say definitively whether chocolate really lowers the risk of AF, or if they’re simply correlated—the findings add to a body of research that suggests chocolate is good for your heart. That’s likely because cocoa is high in flavanols, plant nutrients that may keep blood vessels working properly.

“Our study adds to the accumulating evidence on the health benefits of moderate chocolate intake and highlights the importance of behavioral factors for potentially lowering the risk of arrhythmias,” says lead author Elizabeth Mostofsky, an epidemiology instructor at Harvard Chan. 

The researchers didn’t specify whether milk or dark chocolate offers more benefits, but dark chocolate is likely a safer bet, as it’s richer in cocoa and lower in sugar and calories. And before you go on a candy binge, remember that excessive chocolate consumption still contributes to weight gain and metabolic issues.

Your nightly nibble, however, may now taste even sweeter.