A combined analysis of studies from the past 50 years, which included six studies and a total of 336,289 participants, has examined the association between consuming chocolate and coronary artery disease.  It has found that eating chocolate more than once a week is associated with an 8% decreased risk of heart disease.  The study was published this week in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.

Chocolate contains phytonutrients (plant chemicals) called flavonoids that are heart healthy, along with methylxanthines, polyphenols, and stearic acid that can reduce inflammation and increase good cholesterol (HDL).  Past studies have also shown that chocolate is beneficial for blood pressure as well as the lining of the blood vessels.

It is important to point out that you need to eat dark chocolate, with at least 70% cacao or higher, to get the most benefits.  It is the cacao in the chocolate that is full of antioxidants, while milk chocolate has more sugar and unhealthy added fats.  To get the benefits without overdoing it, you should eat about an ounce of dark chocolate every day.

But wait…there’s more!  Eating dark chocolate regularly also offers these benefits:

Brain health – the flavonoids in the chocolate have been shown to improve cognition, memory, and mood.

Blood sugar control – dark chocolate appears to increase insulin sensitivity, thereby reducing insulin resistance which can lead to diabetes.

Cancer prevention – the high antioxidant levels in chocolate help prevent inflammation which can lead to cancer and other chronic diseases.

Gut health – cacao contains both fiber and antioxidants which are fermented by the good bacteria in our gut, stimulating the growth of more good bacteria.  These healthy bacteria are important for gut health, which in turn has a positive effect on our overall health and immunity.

If you’re a chocolate lover, you can feel good about eating it every day.  The hardest part will be limiting yourself to one ounce, so you’ll need to actually look at the size of the bar and make sure you’re dividing it into healthy portions.  If you’re not in the habit of eating chocolate regularly, you now have a reason to start!

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