Heart health study offers a good reason to eat more chocolate

If eating chocolate leaves you feeling guilty, a new study offers reassurance. According to research from the European Society of Cardiology, regularly eating this polyphenol-rich food may noticeably reduce your risk of developing heart disease later in life. Beneficial compounds in chocolate help keep the coronary arteries healthy, the new study reveals, building upon past research on the food.

Chocolate is, of course, the tasty — usually sweetened — treat made from cacao nibs, which are first processed into cocoa before further refinement into chocolate. Cacao and its derivatives contain a large number of flavonoids and polyphenols, which are plant compounds found in many foods that offer various health benefits.

Past research on chocolate has linked it to a lowered risk of high blood pressure and a protective effect on the lining of blood vessels. The latest research focused on coronary arteries and whether eating chocolate helps protect them from damage. The findings, which were based on data from half a dozen studies and more than 336,000 people, were favorable.

The study found that people who ate chocolate at least once per week had 8-percent lower odds of developing coronary artery disease, which can eventually lead to artery blockage that results in a heart attack. The aforementioned compounds in chocolate are known to promote healthy cholesterol and reduce inflammation, two factors that may help prevent this disease.

Questions remain over whether a particular type of chocolate is more beneficial than others, plus the study lacks details on serving size. Of course, it's important to remember that not all chocolate is the same and that typical milk chocolate is often high in fat and sugar, making it unhealthy in large quantities.