Eating about 100g of dark chocolate daily could help prevent heart problems in high-risk people, Melbourne researchers say.
Dark chocolate is rich in components called polyphenols, especially flavonoids, which can have anti-imflammatory and blood pressure-lowering effects.
Melbourne researchers surveyed data on 2000 people at risk of developing heart disease and estimated the benefits to their health of eating 100g of dark chocolate a day after a decade.
Using a best-case scenario of 100 per cent compliance, the researchers showed that daily dark chocolate consumption could avert about 85 fatal and non-fatal cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks and strokes, per 10,000 people treated over 10 years.
It also showed that spending $40 per person a year on prevention strategies using dark chocolate would be cost-effective.
Although the reduction in heart problems in the population was less than one per cent, Monash University researcher Professor Chris Reid said the strategy could save money considering the cost of heart attack and stroke on the community and the number of people with heart disease who died each year.
"Because of the high cost of treating those diseases, the potential savings of those number of fatal and non-fatal events, actually make this quite a cost-effective strategy," Professor Reid said.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, causing about 17 million deaths in 2004, the study said.
An increasing number of people were at risk of developing heart disease, Professor Reid said.
The research noted that polyphenols were also found in fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, nuts and tea.
However, Professor Reid said the study had shown eating dark chocolate had a high compliance rate and made people feel full.
The study did not take into account weight gain but the potential benefits on blood pressure and cholesterol would outweigh weight gain, "but that is something you would need to consider", he said.
Dr Paul Lewandowski, senior lecturer at Deakin University's School of Medicine, said eating 100g of dark chocolate a day would do no harm but it had to be part of a healthier lifestyle.
He said if people had a balanced diet they would probably receive enough polyphenols from the food they were consuming.
The effects of dark chocolate on lowering blood pressure and cholesterol were not as profound as drugs, the study said.
The study, involving Monash University, University of Melbourne and Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute researchers, has been published in the British Medical Journal.