Research shows regularly consuming as little as a square of chocolate a day helps to reduce your blood pressure and thus your chance of succumbing to cardiovascular disease (CVD). Scientists have found that people eating just 7.5 grams of chocolate daily were at a 39 per cent lower risk of having a heart attack or stroke compared with those who ate just 1.7 grams.

The study, published in the European Heart Journal, found that modest chocolate intake had a significant effect on people's blood pressure. The benefits were more pronounced for a reduced risk of a stroke, but also brought less chance of a heart attack too.

Researchers led by Dr Brian Buijsse, a nutritional epidemiologist at the German Institute of Human Nutrition, made the link after studying the health of 19,357 Germans aged 35-65 for at least 10 years.

They believe that flavanols, substances in cocoa that boost the body's supply of nitric oxide, contribute to the chocolate eaters' lowered blood pressure.

The research confirms an association which other studies have made. The lower likelihood of stroke may be due to cocoa increasing the flow of blood around the brain, the authors say.

Among 1,568 participants whose chocolate intake was tracked 57 per cent ate milk chocolate, 24 per cent preferred dark and 2 per cent ate white chocolate.

The dark variety contains more flavanols, and so is thought to have a greater effect.

However, these findings should not lead to chocolate gluttony, said the authors. “Given these and other promising health effects of cocoa, it is tempting to indulge more in chocolate” — but further research was needed before small amounts of chocolate could be prescribed to prevent cardiovascular disease.

Those tempted to indulge should remember that chocolate contains large amounts of calories and saturated fats, which are related to weight gain and high cholesterol — two risk factors for heart disease. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

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