Late last month, chocolate lovers received welcome news: a new study published in Heart revealed that chocolate reduces the risk of developing atrial fibrillation, a common form of heart arrhythmia. By examining data from the Danish Diet, Cancer and Healthy study, researchers found that people who consumed 1-3 servings of chocolate once a month had a 10% lower rate of new atrial fibrillation diagnosis than those who ate less than one serving a month. What’s more, the rate of diagnosis reduced “17% for one weekly serving, 20% for two to six weekly servings, and 14% for one or additional daily servings.”[“Chocolate May Reduce Risk of Developing Common Heart Arrhythmia”, May 24, 2017, https://www.forbes.com/sites/robertglatter/2017/05/24/chocolate-may-help-reduce-risk-of-developing-common-heart-arrhythmia/#6fbea37e3faa]
These findings add to a growing body of research suggesting that chocolate has the potential to protect cardiovascular health. Although most research thus far has focused on dark chocolate, the new study included both dark and milk chocolate. This follows data published in 2015 indicating that any type of chocolate reduces the risk of heart disease. And while doctors aren’t entirely sure why chocolate appears to benefit heart health, but they do have guesses. As Dr. Howard LeWine, chief medical editor of Harvard Health Publications, says, “It may be related to flavonoids, a type of antioxidant produced by plants. Flavonoids have been shown to help lower blood pressure, improve blood flow to the brain and heart, and fight cell damage.”
This new recognition of the health benefits of chocolate also has clear benefits for the chocolate industry, allowing for new product and marketing opportunities and changing the way the public perceives sweet treats. Dark chocolate is already outpacing milk in terms of growth, attributed largely to growing awareness of its impact on cardiovascular health. But Katrina Markoff of artisan chocolatier Vosges Chocolate believes there’s more to the story. “Dark chocolate has health benefits and that is a source of appeal, but I also believe people’s palettes are really becoming more sophisticated,” she says. “There is more awareness and curiosity about milk and dark and even different specific varietals.” Indeed, the high-end chocolate market has exploded in recent years, spurring major players like Nestle to develop premium offerings while also opening up the door for a niche bean-to-bar industry.
In this changing environment, there is more pressure on both industry old-timers and newcomers to produce chocolates of the highest quality. At the same time, public acceptance of new and novel products means there is also plenty of room for experimentation. And whether you are refining traditional treats or inventing new concoctions, measuring the color of chocolate is now more important than ever before.