A Little Chocolate Equals a Lot of Benefits, So Enjoy it—Gradually

chocolateDuring Easter month, you’re quite likely to have bought or received a box of chocolates. Therefore, we’re happy to report even more good news about chocolate consumption. The March, 2011 issue of Harvard Women’s Health Watch tells us that a study published online in Circulation: Heart Failure concluded the following: “High-quality chocolate may lower the risk of heart failure in middle-aged and elderly women when eaten once or twice a week—but not when eaten more than that.” 


This benefit is in addition to many others that various studies have identified—lower cholesterol, improved artery function, reduced heart attack and a decline in stroke risks.  Moreover, as personal experience as well as research demonstrates, chocolate is a mood enhancer, probably making you a cheerier person to be around.  So, when that holiday box is passed around, indulge but don’t overdo it. And if there are leftovers, consume them at the perhaps painfully slow rate of about 2 pieces a week. Worrying about the shelf life of this fabulous treat?  Don’t bother. Candy is durable stuff.  One of our site’s Advisory Board scientists explains why.


According to food scientist Dr. Karin Allen, the candy in that box on your coffee table will probably taste just fine for at least 3-4 months and maybe longer. Because chocolate contains so much sugar and so little water, it’s quite well protected from microbial contamination and from “spoilage” bacteria that destroy taste, smell, and/or texture. What about the cream and nut fillings inside the candy? The chocolate shell protects the interior from pathogens and from spoilage bacteria that can make foods taste rancid.  Even at room temperature, some chocolates may remain good for a year.  It hardly pays to freeze chocolate candy, though you certainly can. 


The study referred to above was carried out at Harvard Medical School and Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, and it followed 31,823 Swedish women (ages 48-83) for 9 years, asking them about their chocolate intake.  Here were the results for various quantities:


1-3 servings a month (on average): 26% lower risk of heart failure


1-2 servings a month (on average): 32% lower risk of heart failure


3 or more servings a month (on average): no benefit (perhaps because of the additional calories)


How big is a serving?  In this study, the average size ranged from 20-30 grams (about ¾ to 1 full ounce).  Other articles refer to a serving as one square, one piece, or an amount about the size of one chocolate kiss.


According to the Harvard Women’s Health Watch, these results are consistent with smaller studies, which indicated that flavonoid-rich chocolate lowers blood pressure, a major risk for heart failure.  Cocoa solids and dark chocolate (with a 30% or higher cocoa solids content) are most effective.  Note: there are no cocoa solids in white chocolate. 


By the way, if you’re wondering what makes small quantities of chocolate a health food, you’ll find an explanation right on this website.  Just click here


So go ahead, nibble on that chocolate bunny’s ear.  But don’t polish off the whole rabbit in one sitting, even though it’s hollow. 




Harvard Women’s Health Watch “Heart failure risk is lower in women who regularly eat modest amounts of chocolate” March, 2011


Karin E. Allen, Ph.D., Utah State University, Dept. of Nutrition, Dietetics, and Food Sciences


shelflifeadvice.com “Is chocolate good for you?”








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