Growing up, we were told too much chocolate could lead to bad teeth and weight gain. Despite mom's warning, we'd sneak a few Hershey's Kisses from our back pocket for the decadent taste of cocoa. Now, researchers at the University of South Australia and University of Maine suggest eating chocolate weekly could help prevent debilitating conditions like diabetes.

In the recent study, published in the journal Appetite, Georgina Crochton, lead author and a nutritionist and psychologist from the University of South Australia, wrote that eating chocolate at least once a week may lower the prevalence of diabetes, with eaters facing a lower risk for diabetes four to five years later. However, cause and effect relationships between eating chocolate and a lower risk for diabetes haven't been established.

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To investigate the relationship between regularly eating chocolate and diabetes, the researchers observed over 900 community-dwelling nondiabetic and 45 diabetic participants, mostly women, with an average age of 62 from the Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study (MSLS). Chocolate consumption was measured using a food questionnaire, but specific quantities of chocolate eaten were not measured. They also examined the relation between diabetes and chocolate consumption up to 30 years later.

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The findings revealed people who ate chocolate less than once a week were at twice the risk of diabetes compared to those who ate chocolate more than once a week. However, eating chocolate more than once a week did not further decrease risk. Investigators concluded a link can't be ruled out: modest amounts of chocolate likely protect against diabetes, but some diabetic individuals choose to eat modest amounts of chocolate.

"... consuming chocolate at least once a week very much appears to be a win-win with regard to health benefits and cognitive performance for those who do not have special health restrictions on chocolate," said Merrill “Pete” Elias, a psychology researcher from the University of Maine, in a statement.

Previous research conducted by Brown University found daily consumption of dark chocolate improves cardiovascular health and prevents diabetes. The cocoa flavanols affect cardiovascular health, and provide protection against diabetes and heart disease in the future. Consuming 200 and 600 milligrams of flavanols per day yielded the best results in the study. Those who ate flavanol in the optimal range showed significant decline in blood sugar and insulin levels.

So, how much chocolate should you eat?

The MSLS study did not specify, but findings from previous studies suggest a moderate consumption of about one ounce, or 25 grams of chocolate once a week — about a third of a chocolate bar — may be linked with health benefits, such as reduced arterial stiffness and better cognitive performance.

It remains unclear if the benefits of chocolate are limited to dark chocolate, but it is widely theorized the cocoa flavanols, found in large amounts of dark chocolate, are responsible for its health and cognitive benefits.

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The health benefits of eating chocolate have been recognized in numerous scientific studies. Chocolate has been known to lower heart disease, stroke risk, and bad cholesterol.

Reduces Heart Disease And Stroke Risk

Researchers at the University of Aberdeen found among middle-aged and elderly people, those who ate up to a small bar a day had an 11 percent reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, and a 23 percent reduced risk of stroke. Eating a maximum of 100 grams a day was linked to a reduction in stroke and cardiovascular disease over a follow-up of 12 years. Those who ate the most chocolate tended to be younger, have lower weight, waist to hip ratio, and blood pressure, and were less likely to have diabetes and more likely to carry out regular physical activity.

Reduces “Bad” Cholesterol

The cocoa in chocolate has been shown to reduce levels of “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and raise levels of “good” cholesterol, potentially lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease. Cocoa powder significantly decreased oxidized LDL and total LDL cholesterol in men with elevated levels, while also increasing HDL. Oxidized LDL means the “bad” cholesterol has reacted with free radicals.

It seems chocolate can be a heart-friendly food that can easily go overlooked.

Source: Crichton GE, Elias MF, Dearborn P et al. Habitual chocolate intake and type 2 diabetes mellitus in the Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study: (1975–2010): Prospective observations. Appetite. 2017.