Aug. 29, 2012 -- New research provides another helping of sweet news for chocolate lovers.
Most studies suggest that health benefits come mainly from dark chocolate, but the new research seems to extend these perks to milk chocolate. The study took place in Sweden, where about 90% of the chocolate is milk chocolate.
Chocolate contains heart-healthy antioxidants called flavonoids, which may be responsible for some of its health benefits. Other studies have shown that eating a moderate amount of dark chocolate may protect against heart disease and also help with memory.
The new findings appear in Neurology.
The study included more than 37,000 Swedish men aged 45 to 79 who filled out questionnaires about the foods they ate, including chocolate. During a 10-year period, there were 1,995 cases of stroke.
The men who reported eating the largest amount of chocolate, or about one-third of a cup of chocolate chips per week, were 17% less likely to have a stroke compared to those who ate the least.
The researchers also analyzed the combined findings of five studies (including their own) that had a total of 4,260 cases of stroke. People who ate the most chocolate were 19% less likely to have a stroke compared to their counterparts who ate the least chocolate.
One caveat: As with most studies done on chocolate's benefits, the findings are a link, not cause and effect.
Dark Chocolate vs. Milk Chocolate
Suzanne Steinbaum, DO, says that there may be something different about milk chocolate from Sweden compared to the U.S. She is a cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York.
“Is ours more processed? “she asks. “In the U.S., I still recommend dark chocolate, as that is where all the research points. Chocolate could be beneficial for your heart and brain and may hit your sweet spot, too.”
There are things we know we can do today to lower risk of stroke, Caron Rockman, MD, says. She is an associate professor of surgery at New York University Langone Medical Center in New York City.
- Not smoking
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Keeping your blood pressure and cholesterol levels under control
- Eating a healthy diet
- Exercising regularly
“I don’t think the message should be run out and eat chocolate to prevent stroke,” she says. “You are better off controlling other known stroke risk factors than eating more chocolate.”
Irene Katzan, MD, agrees. She is a stroke neurologist in the Neurological Institute at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.
“I don’t know that I would counsel patients to eat chocolate, but I would tell them that chocolate is not harmful -- especially dark chocolate,” she says. “This is great news because it gives people who love chocolate something to hang their hat on.”