Do you ever feel like health advice has bipolar disorder or at the very least, mood swings? One day margarine is going to save your heart and then we find out that the hydrogenated oils in margarine have been harming your heart for years.
Ah, right. Sorry about the heart disease.
Here’s another from our official dietary advice. “You have got to drink at least eight, 8-ounce glasses of water every day.” I’ve heard that called hateful drinking because sucking back eight swimming pools of water just makes you grumpy. And it turns out there's no scientific evidence that everyone needs to heed this advice.
As the bearer of good news though, let me tell you that the Olympic back-flipping also applies to the evil saturated fats in chocolate. We were told that these Voldemort villains were heart stoppers. But, now we part our hair on the side and not in the middle, and all saturated fats aren’t all bad for you all the time.
Like most bad guys, they’re just misunderstood. And chocolate’s supposedly-offending sat fats turn out to be heart healthy. They come from a bean, which grows right on a tree, and that should have been clue number 1, but let’s just do the math here.
The fats in chocolate come from cocoa butter:
- 1/3 = steric acid (your liver converts it into oleic acid, which is a heart-healthy, monounsaturated fat.
- 1/3 = the oleic acid itself.
- 1/3 = palmitic acid is a sat fat, but is being reconsidered now.
Biochemistry lesson over. Bottom line? High-cocoa chocolate raises your good cholesterol (HDL) and lowers your bad cholesterol (LDL). People are told to take pills to get that done. Bet they don’t taste as good as a thumb-sized piece of 85% makes-you-moan-out-loud wonderfulness. And they don’t go with rich red wine, either.
It would be more convincing if you could just show something simple like, more consistent chocolate = less heart disease. The problem is that you’d need thousands of people in that study to get the statistical strength to make it statistically significant.
Oh look. Thousands of people. In a study on chocolate. What do you know?
Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital studied the massive National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s Family Health Study, with a whopping 4,970 people from 25 to 93 years old. They found that those who ate more chocolate did in fact have fewer incidences of heart disease. Maybe that’s because of theory that HDL-up + LDL-down = heart healthy, maybe it’s because cocoa can lower chronic inflammation that can lead to atherosclerosis. Those are great academic questions for academics. But for most of us, it’s just really good news.
But wait, there’s more.
The heart disease benefit in this study was dose dependent. In other words, the more consistently they ate the chocolate, the higher the protection: one to three times a week was good; one to four times a week was better; but the greatest reduction in actual incidents of heart disease happened with those who had chocolate five or more times per week. In other words, chocolate consumption and heart disease are inversely related: when one goes up, the other goes down. By the way, those who ate an equivalent non-chocolate candy had a 49% greater prevalence of heart disease.
The good news is that this particular nutrition science change of heart is delicious. And, given all its cardio-goodness, chocolate should be prescribed for daily use. Can you imagine some doctor telling you to take your daily dose of vitamin Ch?
Doctors prescribing daily chocolate? Don’t hold your breath. But until that day happens and you get an illegible script for 70%-plus-cocoa chocolate, do your heart a favor and have a little every day in control. Get a Pez dispenser if you have to.
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