July 4, 2007 / 9:38 AM / 12 years ago

Daily morsel of dark chocolate cuts blood pressure

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A nibble a day of dark chocolate helped lower blood pressure without packing on the pounds, German researchers said on Tuesday.

A file photo of chocolates on display at the 2nd Chocolate Fair in Barcelona October 21, 2006. A nibble a day of dark chocolate helped lower blood pressure without packing on the pounds, German researchers said on Tuesday. REUTERS/Albert Gea

Prior studies have shown foods rich in cocoa like dark chocolate offer heart benefits, but researchers have worried the added sugar, fat and calories would cancel out any good the chocolate might do.

Now it seems just a 30-calorie (0.126 kilojoule) bite of dark chocolate — equivalent to 6.8 grammes or a quarter ounce — can lower blood pressure without weight gain or other negative side effects.

“Regular intake of small amounts of dark chocolate can help to lower blood pressure,” said Dr. Dirk Taubert of University Hospital of Cologne, Germany, whose study appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Dark chocolate contains polyphenols — a group of chemical substances that are believed to carry health benefits.

Taubert and colleagues studied 44 adults aged 56 to 73 with hypertension but no other health problems between January 2005 and December 2006.

Participants were randomly selected to receive a single, 30-calorie square of dark chocolate containing 30 mg of polyphenols or a 30-calorie square of white chocolate that had no polyphenols.

After 18 weeks, the dark chocolate group experienced a 3 point drop in systolic blood pressure — the top reading — and a 2 point drop in diastolic blood pressure — the bottom reading — without changes in body weight, cholesterol or blood sugar.

“At first glance, this reduction may seem very low, but on a population basis, that means if everyone would experience this blood pressure reduction, the risk of cardiovascular death would be reduced by about 5 percent,” Taubert said in a telephone interview.

“Chocolate may be helpful for reducing blood pressure and therefore, the risk of heart attack and stroke,” he said.

Taubert said the researchers weren’t fussy about the chocolate they used in the study. “It was the cheapest in the supermarket,” he said.

The chocolate contained 50 percent cocoa, but he said a dark chocolate with 40 to 60 percent cocoa content would suffice. I think it makes no difference.”

Still, he cautions people to take it easy.

“One has to look at the whole picture,” he said. “Dark chocolate may help as an addition to other lifestyle changes ... like more sports or changing dietary habits, more fruit and vegetables and less fat and sugar intake.”

More than 65 million U.S. adults — about one in three — have high blood pressure, above levels of 140/90, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

Another 59 million have prehypertension — blood pressure of 120/80 or above.

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