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The Truth About Chocolate and Your Heart

Chocolate is good for you, really!

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 Murray A. Mittleman, MD, PhD, BICMC's Director of the Cardiovascular Epidemiology Research Unit and a cardiologist at BIDMC's CVI.

"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%. Those who indulged twice a week or more reduced their risk by 66%.

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% 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% 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."

Contact Information

CardioVascular Institute at
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
330 Brookline Avenue
Boston, MA 02215