Can chocolate lower your risk for stroke?

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© Gary Braasch/CORBIS

While some of the staples of eating healthy are pretty easy to remember—eating balanced meals that include veggies, protein and starch, and eating lots of fiber, not too much sugar and not too much fat—sometimes keeping track of all of the little ways that diet can influence our health can be a challenge. Yet, if there’s one thing that is easy to remember, it’s chocolate. And, according to research that will be presented this April at a meeting of the American Academy of Neurology, because of the high concentration of antioxidants called flavonoids found in dark chocolate, indulging every now and then might decrease the risk for stroke, and may also reduce the risk of death after suffering a stroke.

The findings, based on a review of three previous studies, suggests that the antioxidants in chocolate may play a role in reducing stroke risk, according to researchers from Canada’s McMaster University and University of Toronto. While one study included in the review found no correlation between chocolate consumption and stroke risk, a second study, which included nearly 45,000 people, found that those who ate one serving of chocolate per week were 22% less likely to have a stroke than those who ate no chocolate. (According to Hershey’s, for example, one serving of its Extra Dark chocolate is 37 grams, which, the company boasts, provides the antioxidant equivalent of two glasses of red wine or 1 1/3 cups of blueberries. ) A third study, which included more than 1,100 people, found that those who ate 50 grams of chocolate per week were 46% less likely to die after suffering a stroke than those who didn’t eat chocolate .

Of course, the problem with this research is that it doesn’t clarify which comes first—are healthier people, who are already at lower risk for stroke, more likely to include chocolate as a part of their diet? Or does chocolate actually play a pivotal role in reducing stroke risk? That, researchers say, is the question for a future study.