Chocolate prevents heart disease? Not likely

Chocolate prevents heart disease?  Not likely

Sadly the media have jumped all over this “feel good” story and misrepresented the facts again.  Will eating dark chocolate prevent you getting heart disease?  Absolutely not.  This study is flawed - as is the bogus way it is being reported around the world.

Dark chocolate is better than white chocolate
Yes, of course dark chocolate (at 60% cocoa at least, and with genuine polyphenol content) is better than cheap, white, dairy-filled commercial chocolate but so what?  Seeing it as anything more than a treat is foolish and this media reporting does exactly that.  It makes chocolate somehow seem like medicine (!?) - Healthy, beneficial and a prevention for heart disease.  No, eating 100g of dark chocolate every day is not the cure for 40% of deaths in the West.   

Dark chocolate is yummy and I love it!
Yes, dark chocolate is a yummy treat and I love it as much as the next person but somehow adding a “health claim” to what is still at least 30% sugar is just plain misrepresentation.  So if a 100g block of dark chocolate is 30g sugar, this is around seven teaspoons of sugar.  So if you ate 100g per day that would be an additional 50 teaspoons of added sugar per week!  And we know that heart disease is fuelled in part by added sugar!  Has your doctor ever told you to eat an additional 50 teaspoons of sugar per week for good health?!

The magic and healthy part of the chocolate is the polyphenols and antioxidants and these are much higher in vegetables (without all the added sugar and flavourings), and much more powerful in fresh whole fruits (that contain all the fibre that is so important for lowering heart disease).

Dark chocolate is better than other treats
Dark chocolate is certainly better for you than French fries, potato chips, fizzy drinks, lollies and many more treats that are higher in sugar and additives, however, keep it as a treat and not a daily staple.  The other real challenge is most people who buy a bar of dark chocolate and then sit down to watch TV with it, will finish it off.  They will not measure just 100grams and then put it away.  They won’t think “What have I eaten today?  Have I overeaten?  Have I had treats already today?  Have I had a heart-friendly day overall?  Am I well-rested?  Am I stressed?  Am I constipated?”  No, they will just use this piece of research to justify eating a whole packet – on top of whatever else they ate that day – completely nullifying any potential health benefits.   This is why the reporting of this research is so manipulative.

What did the British Medical Journal research actually say?
The study by Zomer E, et al “The effectiveness and cost effectiveness of dark chocolate consumption as prevention therapy in people at high risk of cardiovascular disease: Best case scenario analysis using a Markov model”, was reported all over the world over the last two days – in almost every paper, TV station and news bite…

The study found:

  • It was a “best case scenario” only (basically a theory)
  • It was based on a Markov model only (based on an idea)
  • It may underestimate risk in a high-risk population
  • It said that dark chocolate “could” - not “did” - reduce the risk of cardiovascular events over a 10-year period in patients with metabolic syndrome.  This means that it could be helpful in certain people with a condition that already has you at a high risk for heart disease!
  • It was limited by the assumption that the benefits of daily dark chocolate - which has only been observed in short-term trials - extends to 10 years
  • The chocolate would need to be dark and of at least 60% to 70% cocoa, or formulated to be enriched with polyphenols

Heart disease is a lifestyle disease
We already have the cure to heart disease.  It is a plant-based wholefood diet and lifestyle changes.  It is not 50 teaspoons of added sugar per week is it?  

But that news story is not nearly as sexy as “eat chocolate and prevent heart disease...”

Posted: Saturday 2 June 2012