Chocolate’s heart benefits just got sweeter: previously, eating chocolate was found to be associated with lower blood pressure and improved blood vessel function; now, it appears that chocolate-eating may also be associated with a reduced risk of atrial fibrillation (AF), according to new research. AF is an irregular heartbeat that can increase the risk of stroke and other heart complications. Published in Heart, the study included data from 55,502 men and women between 50 and 64 years of age participating in the Danish Diet, Cancer, and Health Study. At the beginning of the study, participants provided information about their chocolate intake. Then, over the next 13.5 years, researchers monitored the participants’ medical records for incidents of AF. Researchers found that, compared with eating chocolate less than once a month, eating more chocolate reduced the risk of AF. Specifically:
Those who ate one to three servings monthly had a 10% reduced risk of AF.
Those who ate one serving weekly had a 17% reduced risk of AF.
Those who ate two to six servings weekly had a 20% reduced risk of AF.
Those who ate one or more servings daily had a 16% reduced risk of AF.
When considering these findings, remember that not all chocolate is created equal. Milk and white chocolate varieties can contain more saturated fat and sugar and fewer heart-healthy nutrients, like flavonoids—plant antioxidants that protect cells and tissues from free-radical damage—and magnesium. In addition, even dark chocolate is high in fat, sugar, and calories, so there may be a limit to how much is beneficial. Research into chocolate’s cardiovascular benefits have used anywhere from 0.5 to 3 ounces per day. So, stick with dark varieties (preferably 70% cocoa or higher), and don’t overdo it, to reap chocolate’s benefits.