Eat more Nuts and Chocolate?

By Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS aka “The Nutrition Myth Buster”™

I’m going to tell you about two foods I want you to eat more; the first food is nuts, and the second is chocolate. Nuts and chocolate? Many of us, over 40, were demonized by these foods. My parents used to say, “Oh nuts; they’re fattening. Chocolate gives you acne. It’s pure sugar. There’s nothing good in it. It just makes you fat.”

Both nuts and chocolate had, for a long time, been without any health credentials, but that has changed in the past couple of decades. I found two epidemiological studies in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, volume 101 number 2: one is on nuts and the other one on chocolate. So, here’s the good news.


Even with the limitations of the epidemiological data, we can still discover some very interesting things, especially if they occur over and over and over again. If it turns out, for example, in study after study after study of all kinds of populations, all over the world that people who are exposed to radiation the most, develop cancer the most: that’s a hypothesis worth testing and until we know more it could be recommended to avoid radiation.

Okay, in this particular study, researchers looked at data from 20,000 male physicians, followed for about 3 years, and filled out many questionnaires including what they ate. The researchers did different crunching of the numbers, focusing in on any possible statistical association between what they ate and their likelihood of dying. Sure enough, there was such an association.

In this particular study, they found that people who ate more than 5 servings a week of nuts had about a 26% reduction in their risk of dying from anything (“All-Cause Mortality). Even the ones who ate 2 to 4 servings a week had reduced risk of dying; there was also a significant reduction in cardiovascular mortality.

People who eat more nuts have diets that are higher in magnesium, higher in fiber, higher in poly and mono unsaturated fats, all of which can have a profound effect on your health. But a lot of other studies have also shown an inverse relationship between nut consumption and BMI, which is measure of weight or overweight. People who eat nuts are, by far, less fat than people who don’t. Put nuts on your playlist and into heavy rotation. I eat them every single day. I put a handful in my Dr. Johnny’s Berries and Cherries. If you would like the recipe, just write to me.

Chocolate! Chocolate contains cocoa flavanols; beneficial plant-based phytonutrients that have a profound effect on cardiovascular health. We have studies of a very interesting group called the Kuna, who lives off of Panama. They drink 5 cups a day of a cocoa rich drink; they have very low blood pressure. Their blood pressure doesn’t move higher as they age as it happens everywhere else. There are more studies on cocoa and blood pressure, as well as studies on cocoa and insulin sensitivity, cognitive function, or heart disease.

On this latest study from the same issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition as the nut study, they found that chocolate consumption lowers the risk of diabetes. They followed, for a little more than 9 years, more than 118,000 participants who did not have diabetes at the beginning of the study. The people eating 1 to 3 servings of chocolate a week had a significantly lower risk of diabetes. In this particular study, the results were most pronounced in the younger healthier folks, but there have been other studies that also showed that the risk factors for diabetes are strongly reduced by chocolate consumption.

We’re not talking Hershey’s bars here. We’re referring to the dark chocolate which is where all the great cocoa flavanols are found. On the package’s label, you’ll see 60% cocoa, 70% cocoa. The higher the cocoa the more bitter the chocolate is. I think the sweet spot for where the chocolate still tastes really good is around 60%. While the studies vary about the ideal consumption amount, I like a square or 2 a day of the good stuff. That’s all you really need. The two foods that nobody is going to be sad to hear that are good for you are: nuts and chocolate.

By Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS aka “The Nutrition Myth Buster”™