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A Little Chocolate May Do the Heart Good

Researchers say a square a day could lead to fewer heart attacks and strokes,,

TUESDAY, March 30 (HealthDay News) -- For those who believe in the Easter bunny (or at least in what he is believed to bring), good news awaits.

Just one small square of chocolate a day might help lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk for heart disease.

After analyzing the diet and health habits of 19,357 people, aged 35 to 65, for at least 10 years, German researchers found that those who ate the most chocolate (an average of 7.5 grams, or 0.3 ounces, a day) had lower blood pressure and were 39 percent less likely to have a heart attack than those who ate the least amount of chocolate (an average of 1.7 grams, or 0.06 ounces, a day).

"To put that 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 6 grams [0.2 ounces] a day, 85 fewer heart attacks and strokes per 10,000 people could be expected to occur over a period of about 10 years," study leader Dr. Brian Buijsse, a nutritional epidemiologist at the German Institute of Human Nutrition, said in a news release from the European Heart Journal, which published the findings online Tuesday.

"If the 39 percent lower risk is generalized to the general population, the number of avoidable heart attacks and strokes could be higher because the absolute risk in the general population is higher," he said.

Six grams of chocolate is equivalent to about one small square of a 100 gram (3.5 ounce) bar, the researchers said.

But Buijsse cautioned that eating chocolate shouldn't increase a person's overall intake of calories or reduce the consumption of healthy foods.

"Small amounts of chocolate may help to prevent heart disease, but only if it replaces other energy-dense foods, such as snacks, in order to keep body weight stable," he said.

More information

The American Heart Association has more about preventing heart disease, heart attack and stroke.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: European Heart Journal, news release, March 30, 2010

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