Good medical news about chocolate, coffee and tea

One meta-analysis, that used data from seven other previously-run studies, showed some good news about chocolate.

These studies didn’t differentiate between the kind of chocolate eaten (dark, milk or white) or the form that the chocolate was in (chocolate bars or other chocolate candy, chocolate in beverages, chocolate in biscuits, cookies and desserts). The frequency of chocolate eating was reported on scales that ranged from “never eating chocolate” to “eats chocolate more than once per day.”

Major benefits for those at risk from heart attack, stroke, and cardiovascular disease

Five of the seven studies showed that the incidence of cardiovascular disease was decreased in people who ate more chocolate. The incidence of stroke was lower in chocolate eaters, and fewer chocolate lovers died from cardiovascular diseases. And (in men) it was noted that increased chocolate consumption correlated with a lower incidence of diabetes. The reductions in the incidences of heart attack, stroke and death from cardiovascular disease were on the order of a 30% decrease. Other studies have shown similar results, that chocolate has benefits for the cardiovascular system. Though a few of those studies showed that dark chocolate (>70% cocoa) was much more effective than other types of chocolate in conferring cardiovascular benefits.

Additional studies have shown that chocolate can help to lessen the risk of heart failure. And chocolate also acts to lower blood pressure. One study done in Sweden, however, showed that overeating chocolate caused its benefits to lessen, eventually becoming zero with eating too much.

How much chocolate is enough?

Coffee and chocolate via Shutterstock

Coffee and chocolate via Shutterstock

A definite amount that would confer the maximum benefit for some protection from stroke and other cardiovascular disease isn’t known. But it seems like a serving of about 3/4 to one ounce per day should be adequate.

A downside? Yes, chocolate is high in calories, so increasing intake can cause weight gain. And being overweight can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. It may increase the risk of developing diabetes. So, if you’re going to add chocolate to your diet, make sure that you adjust your diet accordingly so that you don’t gain weight.

Coffee and tea can provide some benefit too

Several studies have shown that drinking some coffee can help protect against heart disease. But there is a limit to its benefit that is dependent on the amount drunk. Positive effects seem to occur when people drink 1-3 cups (not large mugs) of coffee per day. But negative effects outweigh the positive ones as the number of cups increases above three. In most studies, the coffee used was freshly brewed (not instant) and it was drunk while still fresh.

Tea has been shown to decrease the risk of heart disease. Both black tea and green tea have been studied. Note that these results are for hot, freshly brewed tea, not iced tea. Iced tea, at least in the instant form drunk by most Americans, seems to have almost no effect. With tea, the benefit increases with increasing amounts of tea drunk. That is, people who drank six cups of tea per day had increased benefits over those who drank only one or two cups per day.

Downsides? Caffeine in coffee and tea can increase blood pressure and pulse, and that can be deleterious to cardiovascular well-being. Tea acts as a diuretic and you will urinate more frequently. This can be problematic, not just from a practical standpoint, but can have physiological consequences, as well.

In conclusion, don’t pig out yet

So, should you start eating an ounce of dark chocolate, and drinking three cups of coffee and six cups of tea, a day to decrease your cardiovascular risk?

No. None of these studies looked at STARTING people on coffee, tea and/or chocolate in the hopes that it would prevent cardiovascular disease. The studies looked at people who were ALREADY eating chocolate and drinking tea or coffee. But the studies do suggest that, in these populations, chocolate, limited amounts of coffee, and tea may have a positive effect as reported.


Mark Thoma, MD, is a physician who did his residency in internal medicine. Mark has a long history of social activism, and was an early technogeek, and science junkie, after evolving through his nerd phase. Favorite quote: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science... is not 'Eureka!' (I found it!) but 'That's funny.'” - Isaac Asimov

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  • Anita Hag

    The best tea I just tasted was from this tiny boutique company called Hill Country Tea (dot com). Yes, this is a plug, cause it is amazingly wonderful. The black tea is amazing….I also tried the sourop which was great too!

  • Whitewitch

    I am thinking that doesn’t sound so good in my coffee, maybe I could have a side salad?

  • http://www.newmillgay.com/ The_Fixer

    Thanks for the reply, that’s interesting! I guess that for me, drinking the 1 or 2 cups a day (some days I don’t have any) isn’t going to hurt. I have a BMI about 22, so I fall in the normal weight range. Actually, I live in Wisconsin where there seem to be a lot of overweight people, and they view me as being excessively “skinny” and always want to feed me :)

    Yes, I understand about the fried foods, and was referring to the common fast-food french fries.

    And I don’t eat fried chicken or chicken that has the skin on it. I have actually come to dislike fatty and oily food, so it’s not that hard to avoid it. The biggest problem is when I go over to other people’s houses and they want to feed me. I don’t want to offend them, but geez, some of the stuff that they try and feed me, albeit with good intention, is pretty unhealthy.

  • docsterx

    Good question, no easy answer. Decaffeinated may actually RAISE risk of cardiovascular events. Decaf increases levels of Apolipoprotein B (Apo B) which may be a better predictor of cardiovascular disease than LDL cholesterol. Essentially the higher the Apo B, the more the risk. To complicate the picture further, in people who have a BMI (Body Mass Index) of >25 (classifying them as overweight), decaf significantly increased the HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) by up to 50%. In people of normal weight or thin people, decaffeinated coffee DECREASED the HDL by up to 30%. Elevated HDL levels seem to be cardioprotective.

    (You can calculate your BMI here: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/obesity/BMI/bmicalc.htm )

    So, overweight, decaf may be helpful (even though it does increase Apo B in both groups). Normal weight or thin, increases cardiac risk. How much is the risk increased? No one seems sure, but the consensus seems to be that 1-2 cups of decaf/day probably isn’t going to make a whole lot of difference either way.

    Important note: As I mentioned above, these studies specifically mention using a paper filter to brew the coffee. Coffee contains cafestol and other lipid-raising substances that can have the effect of raising LDL cholesterol (the bad stuff) quite a bit. However, if the coffee is brewed through a PAPER filter, these lipid-raising substances are removed. So don’t drink coffee that is not filtered through a paper filter. Metal filters do not produce the same effect.

    Fried foods. In a study done in Spain, people who ate a Mediterranean diet, including foods deep fried in olive oil or sunflower oil, the fried foods didn’t increase cardiovascular risk. But, most people in that study ate meals at home or meals that were prepared at home so the type of cooking oil was know, In the US, where we eat out more, we rarely know what kinds of oils are used to fry our foods in. Some can be very unhealthful. Often the cheaper cooking oils, that are more attractive to restaurants and fast food chains, are the ones that have the most deleterious effects.

    General, quick tips: remove skin from chicken before cooking. Most of the fat in chicken is in the skin. Cooking the chicken in the skin allows some skin fat to soak into the meat. Eating chicken with the skin on makes it less healthful in your diet. And, if you like fries, thicker cut fries (the steak cut kind) tend to absorb less fat when frying.

  • fletcher

    The Weekly News of the World supermarket tabloid once had a headline “Eating Chocolate Makes You Look Younger.” The article never explained why, though I suspect it was because chocolate caused your face to break out in acne pimples and you thus looked like a teenager.

  • http://www.newmillgay.com/ The_Fixer

    I am wondering if any of the positive effects of coffee can come from decaf? I used to drink caffeinated coffee by the potful, stopped doing that at least 5 years ago. Now I have a mug of decaf, sometimes spiked with a very small amount of caffeinated coffee on most days.

    I would suspect not, from what I know of how the caffeine is removed. They use water to remove the caffeine (or at least 97% of it), which could possibly also remove whatever it is in coffee that is beneficial.

    I also cut way down on chocolate, other than my morning cocoa and a “midget” candy bar (like they give out at Halloween). My theory on all of this is to have a little bit of everything, but not too much of one thing and you’ll likely be OK. And only a couple of french fries and very little, if any, deep-fried foods. I don’t have data to back it up, but I think frequently eating deep-fried foods probably put you on a fast-track to heart disease. That and a fatty diet in general.

  • emjayay

    Just add single source extra virgin olive oil and some nuts.

  • Whitewitch

    So now I know why I love putting cocoa in my coffee perfect healthy drink.

  • cole3244

    these studies were brought to you by the chocolate, coffee, & tea industries, buy more live longer lol!

  • emjayay

    And other studies consistently show that olive oil and nuts reduce strokes, heart attacks and Alzheimer’s. So, healthy diet: chocoloate, olive oil, hazelnuts, almonds, almonds, coffee, tea. Doesn’t leave much room for calories from anything else, except those vegetables which are also healthy.

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