Chocolate and Longevity: How Cocoa Helps Live Longer


Chocolate is delicious, says anyone who isn’t a sociopath. (Just kidding, I do know a few sane people who don’t care for it—but I’m not totally sure I trust them!) It’s a favored food for many of us, and contrary to what the messaging surrounding dessert-adjacent delights often suggests, chocolate has plenty of redeeming qualities. In fact, chocolate has been historically used to heal—and yes, not just the metaphorical heart. It offers a host of science-backed physical health benefits, some of which actually link chocolate and longevity.

Although it’s not exactly feasible to claim that eating a certain amount of chocolate per day/month/year will increase your lifespan by any given amount of time, there is significant research around the various ways in which chocolate reduces your risk of death from various diseases.

Mostly, this protection is attributed to cocoa’s rich flavonoid content, which confers it with a significant amount of antioxidant benefit, says registered dietitian Melissa Rifkin, MS, RD, CDN. “One study suggests ‘a moderate habitual intake of flavonoids is inversely related to cardiovascular and cancer-related mortality’,” she says. “At this time, there aren’t concrete recommendations on daily intake of flavonoids; however, this study noted the benefits plateaued at 500 mg per day.”

To this end, not all chocolate is created equal. “When looking at any of the health benefits related to chocolate, it is specifically the cocoa in chocolate that is linked to positive outcomes—the higher the percentage of cocoa, the more active compounds that are present to provide health benefits,” she says. “So, any chocolate listed as dark chocolate is going to have more health benefits associated with it than milk or white chocolate.” With that said, some of the research amassed on this topic does show that any chocolate is better than no chocolate, when it comes to improving your risk for deadly disease.

Looking for more specific intel on how chocolate can improve your health, thereby elongating your lifespan? Below, find a rundown on three big reasons your favorite dessert deserves clout beyond simply tasting delicious.

1. Chocolate has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.

As Rifkin points out, research has demonstrated a link between chocolate consumption and decreased risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. One meta-analysis of this connection concluded that moderate chocolate consumption, defined as one to six servings per week, is optimal for achieving risk reduction in these three categories. (As far as prescriptions go, that’s about as good as it gets—sorry, apples.) What’s cool about this meta-analysis, too, is that it didn’t just look at dark chocolate consumption—which is, admittedly, the healthiest form of chocolate—but rather included white and milk chocolate consumption into its data, too.

Heart disease 

If you need more specific evidence, a study from 2009 showed that men who suffered from one heart attack were subsequently 66 percent less likely to die from another heart attack within the next approximately nine years (which was the length of study) if they consumed chocolate than if they didn’t. The correlation held even after adjustment for variables such as socioeconomic status and coffee consumption.

Another study showed that people who consumed any type of chocolate two or more times per week were 32 percent less like to have calcification of their arteries than were those who never ate chocolate. It should be noted, however, that the 32 percent figure decreased the more chocolate individuals ate, so moderation is key.

Stroke

In terms of stroke reduction, one study found that out of nearly 20,000 individuals, the percentage that ate the most chocolate had their risk for stroke reduced by 39 percent.

Type 2 Diabetes 

A study in Japan, meanwhile, showed that men who ate chocolate were 35 percent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who didn’t.

2. Chocolate can also reduce the risk of dementia.

Chocolate has been shown to benefit the brain, too, says Rifkin. Research shows that it improves cognition, specifically benefitting areas of the brain dedicated to learning and memory. What’s more, it’s been shown to reduce age-related cognitive decline and lower the risk for developing Alzheimer’s. This is significant when it comes to questions of longevity as one in three seniors in the U.S. dies from Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. And let’s not forget those aforementioned anti-stroke benefits, which are yet another sign that chocolate is good for your noggin.

3. Plus, chocolate improves mood.

You don’t have to be a scientist to know that chocolate is a mood-booster, but there is plenty of science to actually support this. In one study, middle-aged adults given chocolate drinks containing 500 mg of polyphenols (aka flavonoids) every day for 30 days reported greater calmness and contentedness when compared to a placebo group. A meta-analysis looking at other data on cocoa and mood found that it relieved symptoms of depression and anxiety in the short-term. And yet another study found that consumption of 40 grams of dark and milk chocolate daily for two weeks reduced stress in women (duh!).

So obviously, having fewer symptoms caused by mental health conditions and finding more tranquility are both good things generally, but they can also help you to live longer. Reduced stress and improved levels of happiness have both been linked to longevity.

With all of the above said, most studies emphasize benefits of consumption in moderation, of course. If you want to include more chocolate into your diet but aren’t sure of the best (read: healthiest) way to do so, Rifkin recommends adding cocoa powder to smoothies or oatmeal, enjoy a serving of dark chocolate—at least 70 percent cocoa, but the higher, the better, she says—for dessert, or adding cocoa nibs to yogurt or trail mix. Honestly, though, a little Hershey bar here and there never hurt anyone, and actually, it might just help you live a longer, happier, and healthier life.

You’re welcome.

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