Healthy living

Chocolate helps cut risk of heart disease

Zone default image Those Easter eggs may be good for you after all

Easter eggs and other chocolate may be bad for your teeth, but new research suggests eating just one small square of chocolate a day can help lower blood pressure and reduce your risk of heart disease.

A study of over 19,000 adults, aged between 35 and 65 found that those who ate the most chocolate (average 7.5g/day), had lower blood pressure and a 39% lower chance of having a heart attack or stroke compared to those who ate the least (average 1.7g/day).

The difference between the two groups amounts to six grams of chocolate: the equivalent of less than one small square of a 100g bar.

Dr Brian Buijsse, a nutritional epidemiologist at the German Institute of Human Nutrition, Nuthetal, Germany, who led the research said: “People who ate the most amount of chocolate were at a 39% lower risk than those with the lowest chocolate intakes.

"To put it in terms of absolute risk, if people in the group eating the least amount of chocolate (of whom 219 per 10,000 had a heart attack or stroke) increased their chocolate intake by six grams a day, 85 fewer heart attacks and strokes per 10,000 people could be expected to occur over a period of about ten years."

All the people in the study were tracked over eight years. They were given medical checks, including blood pressure, height and weight measurements at the start of the study and also answered questions about their diet, lifestyle, health, and amount of chocolate eaten.

Of these, 1,568 people were asked about what type of chocolate they ate - milk, dark or white - to give an indication of the amount being eaten during the entire study.

Although more research needs to be done, the researchers think that flavanols in cocoa may be the reason why chocolate seems to be good for people’s blood pressure and heart health.

As there is more cocoa in dark chocolate, it may have a greater effect.

“Flavanols appear to be the substances in cocoa that are responsible for improving the bioavailability of nitric oxide from the cells that line the inner wall of blood vessels – vascular endothelial cells,” said Dr Buijsse.

"Nitric oxide also improves platelet function, making the blood less sticky, and makes the vascular endothelium less attractive for white blood cells to attach and stick around.”

However, he also warned that we should not use these findings as an excuse to over indulge on chocolate, especially if it replaces healthy foods: “Given these and other promising health effects of cocoa, it is tempting to indulge more in chocolate.

“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,” he said.

The findings are published today in the European Heart Journal.

This article was published on Tue 30 March 2010

Image © vivien monument -

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