Can chocolate be good for you?

Judith Wills / 25 June 2015

Diet and wellbeing blogger Judith Wills takes a look at recent research claiming that chocolate is good for your health.

It seems like all my friends and family are rejoicing this week.

I can't think of one who doesn't have a smile on their face and a tale for me of how they've proudly sat, after supper, with their glass of red wine and their chocolate (anything from a Dairy Milk bar to a box of Pierre Marcolini pralines, depending on their purse size and/or their taste) munching away, content and euphoric in the knowledge that, at last, we've been told chocolate is good for you – EVEN MILK CHOCOLATE.

Yes. Scientists at the University of Aberdeen analysed data from 21,000 people in the UK and found that those who regularly ate the most chocolate – and not only dark chocolate – were 12% less likely to develop heart disease and 23% less likely to suffer from stroke than those who ate little or none.

In fact, most of the people studied ate milk rather than dark chocolate.

Following on from this study, the media have embraced chocolate as the new penicillin or kale or goji berries – come on everyone, get stuck in!

Not only is it good for your cardiovascular healthy, but actually, it can, um, boost brain function, fight colds, reduce stress, increase our intelligence, stop tooth decay, get us fitter, fight cancer, ease asthma and improve our mood.  Oh, and, er, of course, nearly forgot, it can keep us slim and thicken our hair.

Or so the Daily Mail would have us believe.

So if you've been busy all week stocking up on the stuff and stuffing yourself with it – can you just hang on a minute, please?

I don't particularly want to be the party pooper here, being quite fond of a bit of chocolate now and then myself (and yes a 'but' is coming now).

But the researchers themselves admitted that while the study finds a link between those who eat chocolate and improved protection from heart disease and stroke, a link, however, doesn't mean that it actually is the chocolate which is achieving that effect. The link, they say, may well be circumstantial. And it could be that participants who knew they had cardiovascular problems may have followed a healthier diet and eaten less chocolate.

Researchers not involved with the study have agreed that a scientific conclusion can't be drawn from the Aberdeen work, while medics and heart specialists say that they would not advise people to increase their chocolate intake based on the research, particularly if they are overweight.

The fact is that cocoa is a rich source of anti-oxidants and compounds that may help protect our health and our hearts – and chocolate, both dark and milk, contains these compounds.  As milk chocolate contains less cocoa and therefore less of the compounds, you need to eat more of it to get benefit.  But then, of course, you get more calories, more fat, more sugar.  And you may indeed, get fatter.

The trouble with chocolate is that it is more-ish so it encourages a sweet tooth, and because it melts and takes no chewing, you can eat it much, much faster than you can an apple (which is also rich in anti-oxidants and beneficial compounds and contains 13 calories an ounce/25g compared with 136 or so for an ounce of chocolate) it is SO easy to over-indulge. In truth, the beneficial compounds in chocolate can be found in equal or greater quantities in a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.

I'm therefore going to come out and say it – honestly, you don't HAVE to eat chocolate to be healthy. Honestly. But if you can eat a bit without turning it into a bit more, and a bit more – then fine.

And now I'm going to run and hide because the wrath of my family and friends is not easy to bear.

Ate last night:

I seem to be one of the few people who loves Greek food so a recipe in one of the papers caught me eye – Greek roast fish. It's very simple, and easy to prepare but with good flavour – do try to get very fresh fish. The recipe said pollock, but I used cod.

To serve two, just parboil 300g large new potatoes, scrubbed and sliced into ½ cm rounds.  Drain and add to a smallish shallow ovenproof dish with 1 small onion, thinly sliced, 2 large well crushed cloves garlic, 1 tbsp fresh oregano leaves and 2 tbsp olive oil.  Mix everything together well and roast at 180C for 20 minutes then turn dish contents with a large spoon.

Add half a lemon, cut into small wedges, 2 medium tomatoes, sliced, and some seasoning to taste, then roast for 10 more minutes.  Finally, add 2 white fish fillets, halved, drizzle over some of the dish juices and a good dash of lemon juice, and roast for 8 more minutes or until cooked through but not overcooked.  Serve with fresh herbs scattered over – I used basil and parsley.

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