The EPIC-Norfolk study is tracking the impact of diet on the long-term health of 25,000 men and women in Norfolk, England, using food frequency and lifestyle questionnaires. While the study is bound to throw up a few disappointing facts and figures, there are certainly a few to get excited about.
And they all involve chocolate.
Researchers carried out a systematic review of the available international published evidence on the links between chocolate and cardiovascular disease, involving almost 158,000 people – including the EPIC study participants – and they discovered something surprising.
Until now, the link between chocolate and health has been well documented so the team dug deeper, looking at how much chocolate people ate and how it impacted their heart health.
Around one in five participants said they did not eat any chocolate but for the rest, daily consumption averaged 7g, with some eating up to 100g.
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Compared with those who ate no chocolate higher intake was linked to an 11 per cent lower risk of cardiovascular disease and a 25 per cent lower risk of associated death.It was also associated with a 9 per cent lower risk of hospital admission or death as a result of coronary heart disease, after taking account of dietary factors.
And among the 16,000 people whose inflammatory protein (CRP) level had been measured, those eating the most chocolate seemed to have an 18 per cent lower risk than those who ate the least.
The highest chocolate intake (100g) was also associated with a 23 per cent lower risk of stroke, even after taking account of other potential risk factors.
As an observational study, no definitive conclusions about cause and effect can be drawn, and the researchers point out that food frequency questionnaires do involve a certain amount of recall bias and underestimation of items eaten.
Nevertheless, they add: “Cumulative evidence suggests that higher chocolate intake is associated with a lower risk of future cardiovascular events.”
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And they point out that as milk chocolate, which is considered to be less healthy than dark chocolate, was more frequently eaten by the EPIC-Norfolk participants, the beneficial health effects may extend to this type of chocolate too.
“This may indicate that not only flavonoids, but also other compounds, possibly related to milk constituents, such as calcium and fatty acids, may provide an explanation for the observed association,” researchers suggest.
The study’s findings are music to a chocaholic’s ears: “There does not appear to be any evidence to say that chocolate should be avoided in those who are concerned about cardiovascular risk.”
And what’s more, the heart-protective effects of chocolate are available even to those who can smash a whole block of Lindt in one sitting. Hooray!
While the researchers don’t go so far as to recommend people eat up to 100g of chocolate a day, it’s nice to know that when you need to, you can.
Tell us, how much chocolate do you eat each day? And you eat it because it’s healthy, right?