Chocolate may not have to be such a guilty pleasure anymore.
It turns out, indulging in moderate amounts of the treat is associated with a lower risk of a common type of irregular heartbeat that can lead to dangerous conditions, according to a new study.
The study was led by researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and researchers in Denmark, and it was published Tuesday in the journal Heart.
It’s not a completely new idea that cocoa can have cardiovascular benefits, but, the study points out, there hasn’t been much research specifically focusing on the connection between chocolate and atrial fibrillation (AF), the irregular heartbeat that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure, dementia and even death.
Not only was eating chocolate linked to a lower rate of AF, but the rate also continually decreased as study participants ate chocolate more often.
The study included more than 55,500 Danish men and women. Their health conditions, including blood pressure, cholesterol, cardiovascular disease and more, were tracked for over a decade.
After 13 years, there were about 3,350 cases of AF among the study participants. Those who ate a 1-ounce serving of chocolate one to three times per month had a 10 percent lower rate of AF than those who ate chocolate less than once per month.
When participants ate one serving of chocolate per week, they had a 17 percent lower rate, and those who ate two to six servings per week had a 20 percent lower rate. Results were similar for men and women.
“Our study adds to the accumulating evidence on the health benefits of moderate chocolate intake and highlights the importance of behavioral factors for potentially lowering the risk of arrhythmias,” said Elizabeth Mostofsky, lead author of the study and an instructor at Chan, in a statement.
Mostofsky noted that people aren’t advised to eat excessive amounts of chocolate because such products are often high in calories (that come from sugar and fat) and can lead to weight gain.
“But moderate intake of chocolate with high cocoa content may be a healthy choice,” she said.