Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health. Kill or Cure?

Interview with Dr Duane Mellor, by Judy Anne Swift.

With it’s high fat-high sugar content, it is difficult to consider chocolate as a healthy choice.

But wait, science has once come to the rescue! Joyous headlines report the results of research linking chocolate consumption with lower risks of heart disease as “Good news for chocolate lovers.” It should come as no surprise that the media choses to feature research in this way, nor that we want to read more. Confirmation bias explains how we are all primed to seek information that confirms our existing beliefs and justifies our preferred behaviours. But what can a systematic review of the literature tell us.

Kill or Cure? Chocolate will do neither says Dr Duane Mellor, Registered Dietitian, academic, and chocolate researcher.  He sums up the research to-date by stating that eaten in small quantities, chocolate may have some positive pharmacological effects but there is no evidence that it can be of clinical value. Hardly an overwhelming endorsement, even when you take into account the notorious reticence of an academic.

He also has reservations about the research studies themselves.  In a recent invited review for CABI Reviews, he outlines a number of methodological concerns. The chocolate typically consumed in these studies does not reflect what is available in normal life, in that it tends not to be the sort of product sold in shops and in some studies were eaten in very large quantities.

Even if more robust evidence emerges, Dr Mellor predicts difficulties with applying recommendations to eat chocolate for heart health. Public Health England promotes the Eatwell Guide which does not include chocolate as part of a healthy and sustainable “plate” of food. Instead it is relegated to the naughty corner where it languishes with crisps, biscuits, and tomato sauce, with the advice that it should be “Eat[ten] less often and in small amounts.”

There is, therefore, little point in reaching for the premium 85% cocoa-solid chocolate just to protect your heart health. Unless, of course, this is your preferred chocolate. Instead, you might better choose the chocolate your most enjoy, seek to gain as much pleasure as you can from eating it, and ditch any guilt. If nothing else, this will be good for your mental health.