Sunday, September 4, 2011

Chocolate 'can cut blood pressure and help heart'

Easter eggs and other chocolate can be good for you, as long as you eat only small amounts, latest research suggests.

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.

Heart campaigners warned that too much chocolate is damaging because is has a lot of calories and saturated fat.

The study 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.

The lead author, Dr Brian Buijsse, from the German Institute of Human Nutrition, Nuthetal 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.

Chocolate lovers dream

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," he said.

The researchers believe that flavanols in cocoa may be the reason why chocolate seems to be good for people's blood pressure and heart health.

And since there is more cocoa in dark chocolate, dark chocolate may have a greater effect.

Heart campaigners warned that chocolate is still bad for you if you eat too much.

Victoria Taylor, Senior Heart Health Dietician, at the British Heart Foundation said: "This sounds like a dream for chocolate lovers and just in time for Easter too, but it's important to read the small print with this study.

"The amounts consumed on average by even the highest consumers was about one square of chocolate a day or half a small chocolate Easter egg in a week, so the benefits were associated with a fairly small amount of chocolate.

"Some people will be tempted to eat more than one square, however, chocolate has high amounts of calories and saturated fat which are linked to weight gain and raised cholesterol levels. Two of the key risk factors for heart disease."

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