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

The Study

After analyzing the diet and health habits of 19,357 people between the ages of 35 and 65 for at least 10 years, German researchers found that those who ate the most chocolate (an average of 75 grams (gl, or 0.3 ounces, a day) had lower blood pressure and were 39% less likely to have a heart attack than those who ate the least amount of chocolate an average of 1.7 g. 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 g [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," said study leader Brian Buijsse, PhD, a nutritional epidemiologist at the German Institute of Human Nutrition. The study was published online in European Heart Journal.

"If the 39% 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-g (35-ounce) bar, the researchers said.

Important Advice

But Dr. 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 high-calorie foods, such as snacks, in order to keep body weight stable, he said.

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