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Where else but from the country that invented amore would you find experts recommending that you regularly eat dark chocolate to prevent heart disease? But before you gleefully shred the wrapper on that candy bar, know that it only takes about one-quarter of an ounce (6.7 grams) each day to get the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits that reduce heart disease risk.
That’s the equivalent of a couple of small squares or half of a typical candy bar of dark chocolate each week, say researchers in the Journal of Nutrition. Their work is the largest epidemiological study to date that looks at the effects of eating dark chocolate among 20,000 adults in Italy.
“Our results have been absolutely encouraging: People having moderate amounts of dark chocolate regularly have significantly lower levels of C-reactive protein in their blood,” says lead researcher Romina di Giuseppe, RD.
It’s well known that if your body is in a chronic inflammatory state you dramatically increase your risks of heart disease, heart attack and stroke. Keeping inflammation under control is important, and C-reactive protein is a promising marker of inflammation that can be tracked by a simple blood test.
“The 17% average reduction observed [in the study] may appear quite small, but it’s enough to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease by one-third in women and one-fourth in men. It’s undoubtedly a remarkable outcome,” di Giuseppe says of the study conducted with the National Cancer Institute in Milan.
For more than a decade, research has shown that the flavanols and other polyphenols in dark chocolates, fruits and vegetables have heart-protective benefits, including slowing hardening of the arteries, reducing blood pressure and lowering cholesterol.
So if a little chocolate is good, why not even more? “Beyond these amounts the beneficial effect tends to disappear,” di Guiseppe says. Researchers also eschewed milk chocolate in the study because milk can interfere with polyphenol absorption. But not all dark chocolate is equal. Some manufacturers remove the flavanols because they’re bitter. No flavanols? No health benefits. Finding the best dark chocolate starts with reading the wrappers. The higher the percentage of cocoa, the more protective the chocolate—now that’s amore!