How Much Dark Chocolate Should You Eat to Live Longer?

Chunks of dark chocolate.
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If you love dark chocolate, you’re probably well aware of research that suggests it has important health benefits, mostly through improving heart health. It's a bonus to justify your chocolate addiction in the name of longevity. Learn what the experts say and what daily dose of chocolate is the most healthy.

The Flavanol Factor

The greatest benefit from chocolate comes with the highest concentration of cocoa, which contains flavanols, a form of flavonoid.

Flavanols act as antioxidants, mopping up damaging free radicals that are produced during cell metabolism. They can also reduce resistance to insulin and make blood vessels more elastic, reducing blood pressure. Since flavanols can be destroyed through processing, some researchers recommend eating less-processed chocolate and have advocated labeling cocoa products indicating flavanol levels.

How Much Chocolate to Lengthen Life

Eating chocolate may have advantages, but it brings up the question of how much is beneficial and what the limit is before overindulgence cancels the positive effects. Suggestions for a concrete number of grams or ounces are hard to come by. A study of nearly 20,000 people, followed over a period of eight years, concluded that those who ate an average of 6 grams (0.2 ounces) of chocolate per day had a 39 percent lower risk of heart attack or stroke. That’s a very small amount of chocolate, perhaps only half a single square of a typical 100-gram dark chocolate bar.

Interestingly, this study included both dark and milk chocolate.

How Often Should You Eat Chocolate

Other studies have looked primarily at how often you eat chocolate, rather than the amount you consume. A 2011 research review involving a total of about 114,000 subjects in Europe, Asia, and North America, found a 37 percent lower risk in developing cardiovascular disease, a 31 percent reduction in risk of diabetes, and 29 percent reduction in risk of stroke, among subjects who ate chocolate the most often (more than twice a week).

This review, from the University of Cambridge, included chocolate from all sources, including chocolate bars, drinks, and snacks, and did not distinguish between dark or milk chocolate.

Not Too Much, Not Too Often Is Just Right

Despite the beneficial effect of different sources of chocolate in their study, the Cambridge researchers warn against consuming too much of this energy-dense food. More recent studies have found no effect between those who eat chocolate and those who don't on both mental and physical quality of life markers.

It seems a little chocolate goes a long way in helping you to live longer. With some research saying it really doesn't matter, eat the amount of chocolate that works for you. Don't eat more calories than you can burn and don't replace other healthy plant-based foods with chocolate. Enjoy just enough to fill the need for something sweet and satisfying so that it doesn't interfere with your healthy eating habits.

Sources:

Balboa-Castillo T, et al. Chocolate and Health-Related Quality of Life: A Prospective Study. PLoS One. 2015; 10(4): e0123161.

Buijsse B, et al. Chocolate consumption in relation to blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular disease in German adults. Eur Heart Journal 2010;31:1616-23.

Buitrago-Lopez A, et al. Chocolate Consumption and Cardiometabolic Disorders. BMJ 2011;343:d4488.

Claims About Cocoa. US National Institutes of Health Information Sheet. https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2011/08/claims-about-cocoa.

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