Is chocolate good for your heart?

We’ve all heard the rumours and dreamed it is true…

Is chocolate, one of life’s delicious treasures, actually good for you?

Chocolate has always unfortunately been put in the category of ‘unhealthy’, ‘bad’ and seen as a guilty pleasure… Can we alleviate this unfortunate guilt we have all been carrying around and be able to enjoy this heavenly delight guilt-free this Easter?

Let’s look at the studies and facts so we can go into Easter aka choco-holic paradise with a more informed view…

According to the World Cocoa Foundation, people around the world consume more than 3 million tonnes of cocoa beans a year! That makes for a lot of chocolate!

Not all chocolate is created equal…

  • Dark Chocolate – contains 50-90% cocoa solids, cocoa butter and sugar.
  • Milk Chocolate – contains between 10-50% cocoa solids, cocoa butter, milk in some form and sugar.
  • White Chocolate – does not contain any cocoa solids. It consists of cocoa butter, sugar and milk.


So where does this story of Chocolate being good for your heart come from?

The Harvard T.H Chan school of public health states that cocoa is rich in a plant chemical ‘flavanols’. Flavanols have antioxidant qualities and can have a positive influence on our health such as relaxing the blood vessels and improving blood flow to the brain and heart thereby lowering blood pressure.(i,ii) Flavanols in chocolate can increase insulin sensitivity in short term studies; and in the long run this could reduce risk of diabetes. (iii,iv)

With dark chocolate containing up to 2-3 times more flavanol – rich cocoa solids than milk chocolate, the health benefit is greater. White Chocolate contains next to none. It’s also important to note that lower quality chocolate may also add butter fat, vegetable oils and artificial flavours or colours to their chocolate reducing the quality of the chocolate and any potential health benefits. The more flavanols are processed the more flavanols and in turn health benefits are lost.

Observational studies have found a link between high cocoa or chocolate intake of 6 grams daily (yes, you read that right… that’s 1-2 small squares) and a reduced risk of heart disease and mortality, possibly in part by reducing blood pressure and inflammation.(v,vi) Yes, we all know, everything in moderation. Sorry if that wasn’t the brilliant news you wanted to hear… On a positive note though, Wirz and colleagues showed that Dark Chocolate can reduce the cortisol and adrenaline hormone response to an emotional stress.

Being sensible is key. Getting heart healthy requires a combination of factors. Unfortunately, chocolate is NOT the sole answer. Knowing your risk factors is key to getting heart healthy. This can be done easily with a heart health check by your GP, the cost of which is now covered by Medicare. For simple steps for a healthy heart visit the heart hub section of our website.

Key notes:

  • For those chocolate lovers, stick to dark chocolate that is at least 70% cacao to get the most health benefit. Bad news for white chocolate lovers… we’d give this a miss due to the low cacao content or lack thereof.
  • Remember portion control is key. While consuming a little dark chocolate can be good, consuming too much or making a poor choice of the quality or type of chocolate can leave you with lots of calories, high sugar intake and high levels of saturated fat. None of which are good for your heart.


So where does this leave us for Easter?

While we are now able to appreciate and enjoy this divine food we call chocolate, you now know how to make an informed choice in making your selection and like everything, portion control is key. So, this Easter, spend your money getting 1 better quality dark chocolate egg rather than lots of lesser quality milk chocolate eggs and truly enjoy and appreciate it guilt free! Hard to stick to one? Make the commitment to go for an extra walk to counteract the extra calorie intake then you get your heart pumping as well!

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i Fisher ND, Hughes M, Gerhard-Herman M, Hollenberg NK. Flavanol-rich cocoa induces nitric-oxide-dependent vasodilation in healthy humans. J Hypertens. 2003;21:2281-6.
ii Engler MB, Engler MM, Chen CY, et al. Flavonoid-rich dark chocolate improves endothelial function and increases plasma epicatechin concentrations in healthy adults. J Am Coll Nutr. 2004;23:197-204.
iii Grassi D, Desideri G, Mai F, et al. Cocoa, glucose tolerance, and insulin signaling: cardiometabolic protection. J Agric Food Chem. 2015;63:9919-26.
iv Hooper L, Kay C, Abdelhamid A, et al. Effects of chocolate, cocoa, and flavan-3-ols on cardiovascular health: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012;95:740-51.
v Buijsse B, Feskens EJ, Kok FJ, Kromhout D. Cocoa intake, blood pressure, and cardiovascular mortality: the Zutphen Elderly Study. Arch Intern Med. 2006;166:411-7.
vi Buijsse B, Weikert C, Drogan D, Bergmann M, Boeing H. Chocolate consumption in relation to blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular disease in German adults. Eur Heart J. 2010;31:1616-23.
vii Wirtz PH, von Känel R, Meister R, et al. Dark Chocolate buffers stress reactivity in humans. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2014;63:2297-9