The study of over 19,000 people, published in the European Heart Journal, found those who ate half a bar a week had lower blood pressure. They also had a 39% lower risk of heart attacks and strokes. But, heart campaigners warned that too much chocolate is damaging because it has a lot of calories and saturated fat.
The study also looked at the chocolate consumption of middle-aged men and women over eight years. It compared the health of those who ate the most and least chocolate. The difference between these two groups was just 6 grams a day, equivalent to one small square of chocolate a day.
Dr Brian Buijsse, lead author of Institute of Human Nutrition said: “Our hypothesis was that because chocolate appears to have a pronounced effect on blood pressure, therefore chocolate consumption would lower the risk of strokes and heart attacks, with a stronger effect being seen for stroke.”
This is, in fact, what the study found. Those who ate more chocolate cut their risk of heart attacks by around a quarter, and of stroke by nearly half, compared with those who ate the least. But Dr Buijsse warned that it was important people ensured that eating chocolate did not increase their overall intake of calories or reduce their consumption of healthy foods. Small amounts of chocolate may help to prevent heart disease, but only if it replaces other energy-dense food, such as snacks, in order to keep body weight stable.