Heart-healthy chocolate? No Snickering

chocolate, which is often sold in heart-shaped boxes, might conceivably be beneficial for actual hearts. That’s what researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital want to find out with a five-year, $20 million study partially funded by the candy company Mars Inc.

Researchers will mail supplements containing either cocoa flavanols — chemicals found in chocolate that scientists believe might have beneficial effects on cholesterol levels and blood pressure — or placebos to 18,000 people across the country. The study will then examine whether the chemicals lead to a noticeable decrease in heart attacks, strokes, or heart disease deaths. Doctors involved with the study have said that Mars will have no input in either the study’s design or the writing of any academic papers that come of it.

Down the road, though, Mars may benefit from an all-too-frequent consequence of research into the dietary benefits of popular foods: Media outlets oversimplify the findings, prompting some consumers to overindulge. But even if the flavanols in bitter cocoa prove to be heart-healthy, the gobs of sugar and cream that candy companies add to make chocolate palatable probably aren’t. Will doctors ever prescribe Snickers bars as heart medicine? If only.