Behind the headlines

Can hot chocolate prevent heart attacks?

Hot chocolate - by macinate, Flickr

We analyse news coverage of research suggesting that compounds found in chocolate could reduce your risk of heart disease.

The BHF’s view:

“A daily mug of hot chocolate could stave off a heart attack” reported the Mirror, while the Sun said “Hot chocolate reduces heart disease risk”. If only the story were so simple. 

This was a relatively small study of 100 healthy adults aged 35 to 60, half of whom were given drinks containing flavanols from cocoa. The other half were given a similar drink without the flavanols. The drink was a fruit-flavoured powdered drink containing 450mg of flavanols, which was consumed twice a day for a month. The research was carried out at Dusseldorf University in Germany and was published in the British Journal of Nutrition.

People who had the flavanol drink had lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels and less arterial stiffness than the control group. The study's authors say that this would lead to a lower risk of coronary heart disease, including heart attack, and cardiovascular disease.

Flavanols have been shown to have a benefit to the heart. However, fruit and vegetables are also a source of these compounds

Tracy Parker
BHF Heart Health Dietitian

One of the main drawbacks of the news coverage was that it suggests drinking hot chocolate, or eating chocolate, might have the same effect. Chocolate also contains other ingredients, including fat and sugar, and might not have the same level of flavanols.

We don't know whether a study of larger numbers of people would have yielded the same results. This study was funded by the European Union and by Mars, who also provided the drinks used in the study - a fact not mentioned by some of the news coverage.

The story was covered more accurately by the Guardian, which did mention the association with Mars and reported: “Substances found in cocoa, fruit and tea could help healthy people keep their heart and circulation in good working order as they get older.”

Tracy Parker, our Heart Health Dietitian, said: "Flavanols have been shown to have a benefit to the heart. However, fruit and vegetables, such as dark green vegetables, berries and beetroot are also a source of these compounds.

"In addition to this, fruit and vegetables provide us with a range of other vitamins, minerals and fibre and should form a core part of a balanced, healthy diet. This is consistent with our whole diet approach to healthy eating which emphasises the importance of balance and consumption of a range of foods rather than individual nutrients or ingredients." 

More useful information