It’s been known for some time that chocolate has health benefits, and it may even be that chocolate prevents death. If it improves health, it ought to prolong (median) lifespan.
A study was published in JAMA Internal Medicine that looked at the chocolate consumption of 470 older men, age 65 to 84.(1) They were divided into tertiles (thirds) of cocoa intake. (Cocoa was used since it’s the main component of chocolate, and different kinds of chocolate have varying quantities of cocoa.)
The main source of chocolate was plain chocolate bars, although included were items like chocolate pudding and M&Ms.
One-third of the men used no chocolate, while the highest tertile consumed 4.2 grams a day, which is the equivalent of about 10 grams of dark chocolate.
An average chocolate bar, for example one by Ghirardelli, holds 100 grams, so the consumption of the men in the highest tertile was not that much at around one tenth of a chocolate bar daily.
Chocolate consumption was associated with dramatically lower death rates. Check out the following table:
Using models that adjusted for age, BMI, lifestyle factors, drug use, and food and calorie intake, the men in the highest tertile of chocolate consumption had half the risk of all-cause mortality.
Cardiovascular death risk was similar or even better. In some adjusted models, the men who consumed the most chocolate had a 60% lower risk of death from heart disease and stroke.
The link between chocolate consumption and mortality risk is an association, and causation has not been shown. The authors of this study comment: “In our study, cocoa users consumed less meat and coffee; consumed more dairy, sugar confectionary, cookies, and savory foods; and were more likely to use alcoholic drinks and nuts and seeds.” That’s a real mixed bag. I would expect that some would contribute to health, other (sugar, cookies, less coffee) would contribute to worse health.
The authors give a number of reasons supporting causation of chocolate for health, among them the exclusion of men with chronic disease at baseline, those who took anti-hypertensive drugs, and the fact that the other foods associated with chocolate consumption were not themselves associated with mortality.
There are good reasons to believe that chocolate causes better health, but if we could find some mechanisms of action that buttressed this, that would make our belief stronger.
As noted above, the men in the highest tertile of chocolate consumption ate about 10 grams daily, which is about one tenth a standard size bar of dark chocolate.
Is eating more better? One epidemiological study suggested that no, it wasn’t, but I’m skeptical. If chocolate works by the mechanisms listed above, then more should be better.
Regular chocolate has large amounts of sugar, so one needs to be careful about that. You could get raw cacao nibs – no sugar, nothing but cacao, chocolate’s essential ingredient.
Besides eating a handful of dark chocolate chips after dinner, I like to drink hot chocolate made from cocoa only, no sugar. A heaping teaspoon has about 10 grams of cocoa, just the amount eaten by the men in the highest tertile of consumption. Bonus: that amount has only 20 calories, and contains caffeine and theobromine, both stimulants, so it’s perfect for drinking during intermittent fasting. It’s this stuff: