A new study has discovered that eating chocolate and dairy, like cheese and yogurt, can improve your heart health. This is exciting news for the many people who enjoy these products. Of course, these foods, like most, should be consumed in moderation. But while people savor their favorite flavors, their hearts can reap the benefits.
Dairy and Chocolate Could Reduce the Risk of CVD
The study was published on July 6, 2021, in the journal Cardiovascular Research. In it, researchers from the University of Naples analyzed almost 100 studies about increased heart disease risks and diets. They specifically studied categories of food, like red meat, grains, nuts, produce, eggs, poultry, and dairy. 
You may recognize these categories from the famous Food Pyramid, which was introduced by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 1992. The diet presented by the pyramid was since debunked since it called for limiting fats and plentiful complex carbohydrates. Since then, research has found that some fats are very healthy and not all complex carbohydrates are so good for the body. Plus, the chart was created to satisfy the agricultural and meat industries. It definitely explains the focus on carbohydrates and animal-based proteins.
The Food Pyramid has since been replaced with the 2010 graphic MyPlate, which nixes the pyramid shape for a graphic of a plate sectioned into different food categories.  However, the new study in Cardiovascular Research was supported by a research grant from the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition Foundation (BCFN). Their goal is to create a new version of the Food Pyramid based on scientific proof on how to prevent cardiovascular disease (CVD).
And the study found that routinely eating yogurt and small quantities of cheese could reduce the risk of developing CVD. They theorize that the fermentation process in these dairy products contributes to this. Plus, a small amount of chocolate also lowers the risk of CVD.
The Study’s Recommendations For Eating Chocolate and Dairy
Although there’s limited information on the effects of eating high amounts of dairy, researchers discovered that consuming 200 grams of dairy products had no connection to the risk of CVD. This counters the outdated theories about how products with high saturated fats are unhealthy for heart health. In fact, this new study found that some types of dairy help protect the heart.
In other words, those who ate at least 200 grams of dairy — about three-quarters of a cup of yogurt — every day had a lower risk of heart disease compared to those who didn’t have any yogurt. Additionally, they found that eating up to 50 grams of cheese every day was beneficial — about a third of a cup of shredded cheese or two and a half slices of cheese.
Now, when it comes to chocolate, they found a small but significant connection between eating chocolate on the regular and lessened risk of CVD. Research data finds that flavanols, a specific compound in cocoa, are responsible for heart health benefits. This meant consuming 20 to 45 grams of chocolate daily — about one-half to an entire 1.5-ounce bar of chocolate — was most beneficial.
Unfortunately, eating more chocolate didn’t correlate with improved heart health. However, the researchers don’t actually recommend eating 20 to 45 grams of chocolate daily. They recommend about 10 grams a day to avoid eating too many excess calories and sugar, both of which could counteract the hearty benefits.
Moreover, this study didn’t go into the different kinds of chocolate. However, other studies recommend dark chocolate to be best for heart health. It contains more flavanols, antioxidants, and other nutrients. Meanwhile, milk chocolate has less cocoa and more processed sugars and fats. 
Dairy: Good or Bad for Heart Health?
While the jury is clear about dark chocolate over milk, let’s go into more detail about dairy. What kind exactly is good for heart health? After all, not all dairy products are equal.
According to the Australian Heart Foundation, milk, yogurt, and cheese could be eaten as part of a heart-healthy healthy diet, but beneficial fats should come more in the form of nuts, seeds, healthy oils, and fish. They also recommend choosing unflavored dairy products to limit processed sugar.
Dairy contains calcium, which is necessary for building strong bones, muscle contraction, and nerve transmission. It’s also rich in protein, vitamin D, magnesium, and phosphorus. However, part of the bad rap dairy attains is from containing saturated fat. The American Heart Association states that saturated fat leads to high cholesterol and CVD. Therefore, the organization advises people to choose low-fat or fat-free products to still reap the benefits of calcium.
However, recent studies are finding that saturated fat doesn’t have such a strong link to heart disease after all. For instance, a team of cardiologists wrote an article where they claimed eating high saturated fat food doesn’t clog the arteries as once believed.  Another review stated that the effect of saturated fat on heart disease was exaggerated, adding that other lifestyle factors contribute to the risk of CVD. 
How to Reduce Risk of Heart Disease
Whether a person eats dairy or not, there are many other ways to lower one’s risk of heart disease, including:
- Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables
- Exercising regularly
- Limiting alcohol
- Not smoking
- Getting enough sleep
- If they have diabetes, maintaining health blood sugar levels
- Speaking to their doctor about how often they need blood pressure checks and test for cholesteral and glucose levels, all of which can predict the risk of CVD 
- “Dietary recommendations for prevention of atherosclerosis.” Cardiovascular Research. Gabriele Riccardi, Annalisa Giosuè, Ilaria Calabrese, Olga Vaccaro. July 6, 2021
- “What Is the Food Pyramid Now?” EMedicineHealth. John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP. March 11, 2020
- “Sweet dreams: eating chocolate prevents heart disease.” Harvard Health Publishing. Howard E. LeWine, MD. June 16, 2015
- British Journal of Sports Medicine.
- Curr Nutr Rep.
- “Is dairy good or bad for your health?” Medical News Today. Jennifer Berry. September 6, 2019