Chocolate eaters have enough reason to rejoice, a new US study has pointed out that people who consumed chocolate above five times a week were 57 per cent less likely to suffer coronary heart disease than those who never ate it.
This was after taking into account other factors such as overall energy and fruit and vegetable intake, and family history of heart disease.
According to the study of almost 5000 Americans, people who ate chocolate less frequently, between one and four times each week, were 26 per cent less likely to have heart disease.
"Even smaller amounts of chocolate [with few extra calories] may have beneficial effects on cardiovascular health," Stuff.co.nz quoted the study authors as saying.
Jonathan Hodgson, a research professor at the University of Western Australia, said the study reflected a growing body of evidence linking antioxidants known as flavonoids - found in cocoa - with lower risks of cardiovascular disease.
"These antioxidants are also found in fruits and vegetables, and particularly in tea. I think you need to be a little careful promoting chocolate because the flavonoids may be beneficial but it also has saturated fats which may be detrimental," he said.
He said 20 to 30 grams of chocolate three times each week would have little impact on a person's energy and saturated fat intake, and has been linked with heart health.
But trials were needed before researchers could definitively say eating chocolate would protect against heart disease.
The study appears in Clinical Nutrition.