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Large Harvard Study Adds to Evidence That Chocolate Could Have Heart Health Benefits

June 26, 2017, 10:00 AM UTC

The tester

Godiva hires hundreds of people to make and sell chocolates. But the hardest jobs to fill are sensory technologists, "people who can distinguish between really good and really great," says Wayne Puglia, Godiva's senior vice president of global research and quality. Such professionals need to read between the lines as they watch consumers take taste tests. They need to understand the reaction to a new chocolate's appearance, ease of opening, how quickly it melts in the mouth. They also need to know regional preferences, says Puglia, noting that European chocolates must be richer, less sweet, and have more pronounced cocoa notes than American chocolates. "It requires a high degree of intuition," he says. Godiva considers chocolate "a hybrid of food and fashion."
Photo: Rebecca Sapp/WireImage

A new study from Harvard researchers suggests moderate chocolate intake is associated with a significantly lower risk for irregular heartbeats.

To be clear: there’s good reason to be skeptical of sensationalist science headlines claiming disasters and/or miracles linked to foods, social behaviors, and a whole host of other bizarre things. But sometimes research adds up to a compelling picture of health links.

The analysis conducted by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Danish scientists involved more than 55,500 people. Those who ate two to six servings per week had a 20% lower chance of the irregular heartbeats, or atrial fibrillation, one of the major contributors to clots, stroke, and heart failure. Slightly lower, regular chocolate consumption showed similar (albeit less pronounced) results, according to the research published in the BMJ.

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And it’s not the first such analysis to imply this connection (once again: correlation doesn’t imply causation). “Our study adds to the accumulating evidence on the health benefits of moderate chocolate intake and highlights the importance of behavioral factors for potentially lowering the risk of arrhythmias,” said lead study author Elizabeth Mostofsky, as the Harvard Gazette reports.

“Despite the fact that most of the chocolate consumed by the study participants likely had relatively low concentrations of potentially protective ingredients, we still observed a significant association between eating chocolate and a lower risk of atrial fibrillation — suggesting that even small amounts of cocoa consumption can have a positive health impact,” Mostofsky continued.

Of course, this is no excuse to go crazy on the cocoa.

“Eating excessive amounts of chocolate is not recommended because many chocolate products are high in calories from sugar and fat and could lead to weight gain and other metabolic problems,” the authors write. “But moderate intake of chocolate with high cocoa content may be a healthy choice.”