How Chocolate Can Help You Live Longer

One of the best pieces of medical news to emerge over the last several years is that chocolate may help you live longer, probably through a reduction in cardiovascular events like heart attack and stroke. After all—how often is an anti-aging remedy this easy to take?

Here's what you need to know about how chocolate can enhance your longevity, which type is the healthiest, how much of it to consume, how it's been used as medicine for centuries, and how best to savor it. Enjoy!


The Healthiest Chocolate

Cocoa powder
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Chocolate's recent status as a heart-healthy food was launched in the 1990s by Harvard Medical School researchers studying the Kuna Indians, living off the coast of Panama. The Kunas suffer very little hypertension, even with increasing age, despite their high salt intake.

Concluding the major difference in this indigenous population is dietary, the researchers focused their attention on the Kunas' regular consumption of cocoa—up to 5 cups a day—for clues about the effects of this largely unprocessed food.


Can Chocolate Help You Stay Slim?

Woman eating chocolate
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Of all the things to love about chocolate, research published in 2012 in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine suggests eating it regularly may actually help you stay slim! Though chocolate lovers are usually cautioned to compensate (that is, cut calories) elsewhere in their diet when they eat this energy-dense food, the University of California study found that subjects who ate chocolate more frequently had a lower Body Mass Index, even when they consumed more calories overall. A BMI between 18-25 is considered healthiest for adults.

The findings jive with a 2011 review of seven major studies involving about 114,000 people, which also found a link between frequency of chocolate consumption and health. The conclusion? Eating chocolate and cocoa products more than twice a week led to big drops in the risks of cardiovascular disease (down 37 percent), diabetes (down 31 percent), and stroke (29 percent lower risk).


Chocolate's Healthy History

Hot chocolate in a silver kettle
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Chocolate's role in an anti-aging diet may seem like news, but the truth is, cocoa has been used as medicine in many cultures for thousands of years. One of the first written references to chocolate and longevity was recorded in the mid-1600s after Spanish explorers who'd discovered it in the New World took it back home to Europe. Over the centuries, cocoa and chocolate have been credited with improving ailments ranging from digestion, seizures, and rheumatism, to toothaches and insomnia.


How Much Chocolate Should You Eat to Live Longer?


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Though the evidence that chocolate can benefit heart health is growing, researchers caution that this energy-dense food can contribute to weight gain. A 3.5 oz (100g) bar contains more than 500 calories. There's no point trying to avoid a heart attack or stroke by eating chocolate if eating it leads to obesity and a correspondingly higher risk of cardiovascular and other diseases.

Many studies have looked at the frequency of chocolate consumption -- that is, how often people are consuming it (less than once a week, more than twice a week, daily, and so on). There are clues in the research, however, as to how much chocolate to eat, for the greatest benefit.


Other Health Benefits of Chocolate

close up of a box of chocolates, focused on a heart-shaped chocolate
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Chocolate is a complex plant food with over 300 compounds and chemicals in each bite. Unprocessed cocoa contains a large number of flavanols, a form of antioxidant flavonoid that has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease, thanks to its ability to keep blood vessels elastic and platelets from sticking together.

Though the link between chocolate and a lower risk of heart attack, stroke, and diabetes has not yet been proven, many large studies have shown a positive correlation.

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