Every so often there appears to be a new flare up in certain health fads. Sometimes they stick around for a while and sometimes they fade quickly. (Remember the Atkin’s Diet? And what will become of the Keto craze?)
But we do love a good news health story that talks about the health benefits of chocolate, beyond just the great taste of it. There is a debate that floats around about chocolate every now and again, and that is whether or not eating two chocolate bars a day is good for you.
You might be thinking that two KitKats or Snickers each day sounds like a lot, and you’re absolutely correct in that. It is a lot! But that’s not exactly what the study is talking about. We are talking about two high quality bars of chocolate equaling 100 grams in total.
Regardless of the type of chocolate, the thought of eating two bars a day might be an exciting prospect for you. So, let’s take a closer look at this claim.
Back in 2015, a certain study was released into the world, making waves for chocolate lovers everywhere. Heart researchers at the University of Aberdeen looked at the eating and snacking habits of 21,000 people over the age of 12 and found that people who ate higher amounts of chocolate – up to 100 g a day – trended younger, weighed less and exercised regularly. Other common trends were that they had lower waist: hip ratios, systolic blood pressure, inflammatory proteins, and incidences of diabetes. Taken together, this led to an overall more positive cardiovascular disease risk profile.
In other words, researchers concluded that eating more chocolate is associated with a lower risk of developing heart disease.
It really does sounds amazing. But before you go and buy a case of chocolate bars, it is important to note some of the wording here. For example, eating chocolate is associated with people who have positive health indexes and profiles – not that eating chocolate causes people to suddenly become healthier.
People who have healthy bodies often also eat chocolate (and they may also often exercise and possibly have good eating habits in general and possibly get enough sleep. Who knows, maybe they meditate and have really good genes, too). The study does not claim that eating chocolate will improve your heart health — just that it may be linked with a lower risk of developing heart disease. Which is great news nonetheless! But it is important to understand the difference so that you are not tempted to partake in an all-chocolate diet, hoping to improve your heart health and then expect to live until you’re 107.
What these studies don’t measure is the myriad of other factors that also contribute to health, including socioeconomic indicators, other genetic markers, whether you are predisposed to disease or other health issues, learned health behaviors you’ve had since childhood, and so on. So it’s important to take a step back and look at things with a bit of a wider lens.
There definitely are positive things about eating chocolate. Certain forms of chocolate (usually dark) do contain flavonols, which are antioxidants often linked to a healthy brain and heart. Flavonols may help keep your blood vessels flexible, reduce your blood pressure, and help with overall brain function. The kicker is that you only need a small amount of chocolate to get the benefits.
The truth is, we all know in our heart of hearts that eating two 50 gram bars of chocolate each and every day can’t possibly be that good for us. Even if it is high quality dark artisanal fair trade chocolate. There is still sugar and caffeine, fat and a lot extra calories that come along with a habit like this. And then imagine doing it every day! To paint a clearer picture, one typical store bought milk chocolate bar is on average 43 grams. So you’d have to eat more than two bars a day to make it to 100 grams. Along with the benefits the study claims, you are also now taking in more than 440 calories, 26 grams of fat, and 48 grams of sugar in the process.
Part of what makes something delicious is that we don’t indulge in it twice a day, that we keep it as a treat or a reward or something to stop and savour. Overindulging quickly diminishes the specialness of a thing, and we would never want that to happen with chocolate!
It is comforting to know that eating chocolate can help with health and well being, or at least not make it worse. As the researchers in the study said, “there does not appear to be any evidence to say that chocolate should be avoided in those who are concerned about cardiovascular risk.” So if you are looking to change some health habits, you might want to start with cutting out smoking or increasing the amount of sleep you get before you tackle your chocolate intake.
Really what matters is that a person is practicing the health habits that are right for them. And they are different from person to person! Exercise needs and capacity, dietary restrictions (and indulgences), the amount of sleep and other mindfulness practices are going to help individuals in different ways, depending on many factors!
The best thing to do is to listen to what the body is saying – it is a wise and wonderful machine! If you are feeling stiff, stretch or get a massage. If you know you are carrying a few extra pounds, adjust your habits accordingly. And if you are craving some delicious chocolate, give yourself a break and enjoy! It might not magically change the path of your heart health, but it will certainly make you happy, and isn’t that what life is really all about?