While you may not hear “Take two chocolates and call me in the morning” after a visit to the cardiologist, chocolate really is a food with health benefits for your heart.


Chocolate contains flavonoids that act as antioxidants, according to Dr. Murray A. Mittleman, MD, PhD, Director of the Cardiovascular Epidemiology Research Unit at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and a cardiologist at BIDMC’s CardioVascular Institute.


“They protect the body from free radicals, which can cause damage that leads to heart disease,” explains Dr. Mittleman. “Flavonoids can also relax blood vessels and lower blood pressure, which may reduce the risk of certain illnesses, such as heart attacks, hypertension and atherosclerosis.”


Benefits for the Heart


The news of the health benefits of chocolate continues to grow. A recent study conducted in Stockholm, Sweden, has found that chocolate eaters significantly cut their risk of dying from heart disease.


Following a heart attack, patients were followed over an eight-year period. When compared with non-chocolate eaters, those who ate chocolate once a week reduced their risk for cardiac death by 44 percent. Those who indulged twice a week or more reduced their risk by 66 percent.


The flavonoid antioxidants in cocoa are a likely source for the study’s findings, according to Kenneth Mukamal, MD, MPH, co-author of the study and a physician and researcher at BIDMC.


Not All Chocolate is Created Equal


The darker the chocolate, the higher its flavonoid content. And, unfortunately for white chocolate lovers, this version contains no real chocolate at all — just cocoa fat, sugar, and flavorings.


Avoid chocolate with fillings such as caramel or nougat. These fillings are just added sugar and fat that erase many of the benefits you get from eating chocolate.


Bottom line: Choose the purest dark chocolate you can find. The heart-healthiest dark chocolate has at least 60 percent cocoa solids.



Easy Does It


While chocolate is beneficial for health, these benefits don’t give you an excuse to eat as much as you want. Chocolate is still a high-calorie, high-fat food. A typical 1.5 ounce dark chocolate bar, with 60 percent cocoa solids, can contain as many as 220 calories, 17 grams of fat and 23 grams of carbs.


“Chocolate can carry substantial amounts of calories, fat and sugar, so moderation is key,” says Dr. Mukamal. “While small quantities of chocolate are a healthy alternative for dessert, individuals with weight issues should use caution.”


But, eaten in moderation as a part of a healthy diet, chocolate may be just what the doctor ordered for better health. So, if you are a chocoholic, relax and indulge!


And remember: “Strength is the capacity to break a chocolate bar into four pieces with your bare hands — and then eat just one of the pieces.”


Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.


Posted January 2013