A study conducted at the German Institute of Human Nutrition has found that increasing chocolate intake by 6 grams a day (about 1.5 ounces per week) would reduce the occurrence of heart attacks by 85 fewer per 10,000 people during the course of a decade.
Findings suggest that eating a small amount of chocolate daily may help the heart and lower blood pressure. Nutrition researchers published their findings on almost 20,000 adults between 35 and 65 in the European Heart Journal.
To evaluate the diet and exercise habits for 10 years, a series of questionnaires was used.
Those who ate the most chocolate — an average of 7.5 grams per day or one square of a 100-gram bar — had lower blood pressure and a 39 per cent lower risk of having either a heart attack or stroke compared with those who ate the least chocolate, the researchers found.
If people eating the least amount of chocolate increased their 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 10 years, according to the study’s lead researcher Dr. Brian Buijsse of the German Institute of Human Nutrition.
"It's a bit too early to come up with recommendations that people should eat more chocolate, but if people replace sugar or high-fat snacks with a little piece of dark chocolate, that might help," Buijsse said.
One hundred sixty-six heart attacks occurred; twenty-four were fatal, over 8 years of the study. Also, there were one hundred thirty six strokes, twelve were fatal.
The researchers cautioned if a person eats a small amount of chocolate, without reducing other food consumption to adjust or exercise, then it’s likely they will gain weight.
The study's authors believe that antioxidants, known as flavanols, found in cocoa are probably the component responsible for improving heart health and lowering blood pressure. Because more cocoa is found in dark chocolate, it may possess an even greater effect. Flavanols also exists in red wine and numerous vegetables.
A small selected group of participants, 1,568 were asked to remember the type of chocolate they ate within in the last 24 hours and showed 57 per cent ate milk chocolate, 24 per cent dark chocolate and two per cent white chocolate.
The study’s participants were healthy, without a history of heart disease, and had similar exercise and smoking habits. Basic scientific suggests dark chocolate containing at least 70 per cent cocoa content reduces oxidative stress and can improve blood flow and blood pressure, Frank Ruschitzka of Switzerland's University Hospital Zurich said in commenting on the study on behalf of the European Society of Cardiology, which publishes the journal.