The latest news about chocolate is encouraging: an analysis of several studies involving data on more than 100,000 people suggested that those who reported eating chocolate regularly lowered their risk of heart disease by more than one-third. That may be cause for celebration among chocolaholics, but of course, there's a catch to it: the studies involved were all observational - that is, they all looked at chocolate consumption and health as reported by participants. The analysis didn't directly compare those who ate a set amount of chocolate per week with those who consumed a placebo (in this case, a chocolate look-alike and taste-alike), as would be required in a clinical trial to investigate chocolate's effects on the heart. What's more, the studies included reports of consuming chocolate in all its forms - dark, milk, in drinks, cookies and desserts. And it didn't specify how much chocolate study participants ate. Still, if the analysis has any merit, people who eat lots of chocolate regularly may find that they have healthier hearts than those who don't. The analysis, from England's University of Cambridge, was published August 29 in BMJ online.
My take? Chocolate is a source of polyphenols (the same type of antioxidants found in red wine). Stearic acid, the fat it contains, doesn't affect cholesterol levels, and studies have shown that flavonoids in dark chocolate help reduce the stickiness of platelets, cells that play an important role in blood clotting. As a result, blood takes longer to clot, reducing the danger of coronary artery blockages. Chocolate's polyphenols also appear to boost levels of HDL (the "good" cholesterol) and lower LDL (the "bad" cholesterol), at least in the lab. I recommend consuming good-quality dark chocolate that is at least 70 percent cocoa as a healthy snack, as long as you don't go overboard. An ounce or two a few times a week is good for you.