A new study has suggested that a daily dose of chocolate could lower blood pressure more reliably than prescription medication, as cocoa is rich in chemicals called flavanols.
This chemical could be used in the fight against dangerously high blood pressure, which now affects one in four adults and seven out of 10 people over 65.
But to get the heart benefit you have to eat a lot of chocolate and the amount of sugar will undo the health boost.
So instead people should consider taking a cocoa flavonol supplement.
Study leader Lecturer in Nutrition Dr Ana Rodriguez Mateo of Kings College London said: People can decrease their blood pressure by having a daily intake of flavanols.
The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, involved a month-long comparison of blood pressure readings in 45 healthy German men aged 18 to 35.
The men were divided into three groups, which took high or low doses of cocoa flavanols or a dummy pill.
It found those taking high doses of the monomeric flavanol (−)-epicatechi, which makes up a fifth of cocoa flavonols, saw blood pressure drop but not those taking the more abundant procyanidins.
Dr Rodriguez Mateo added: Those taking the high dose of cocoa flavonols had an average six-point drop in blood pressure.
We have done a number of studies and the evidence is stronger for people who already have high blood pressure, but we need more clinical data to be sure.
We havent got trials studying people over many years but we would assume that short term results would be the same over a number of years.
However, she warned the results were not a licence for chocoholics to go mad.
She said: You would have to eat huge quantities of chocolate to get this level of flavanols, and even if you tried you would be cancelling out any benefit by eating vast amounts of extra fat and sugar at the same time.
Flavanols are an important class of food bioactives that can improve vascular function even in healthy subjects.
Dr Rodriguez Mateo said: Our data indicates that the vascular effects after cocoa flavanols intake can be predominantly ascribed to the bioactivity of (−)-epicatechin and that procyanidins do not contribute directly to cocoa flavanols intake–mediated acute and longer-term vascular effects in healthy humans.
In view of potential future dietary recommendations for flavanol intake in the context of cardiovascular health maintenance and disease prevention, these findings are of great relevance.
Dr Miriam Ferrer, spokeswoman for Cambridge Nutraceuticals, which produces a popular cocoa flavanol supplement said: We have been working in this area for many years.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has acknowledged that our product, Blood Flow+, helps maintain the elasticity of blood vessels.
This improves blood flow and reduces blood pressure.
She continued: This new study supports EFSAs conclusions about cocoa flavonols.
It also confirms the findings of other leading research institutes around the world.
Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine Kennedy Cruickshank at Guys and St Thomas hospitals in London, said: The study of the properties of flavanols is an emerging field of considerable interest.
They do seem to have a detectable effect on blood pressure and its time this research passed to the medical world so it can be tested properly in patients.
High blood pressure causes heart attacks, stroke, and a heightened risk of dementia.
This can be reduced with exercise and good diet.
Medications to treat it are now among the most commonly prescribed drugs, but they can be ineffective and other approaches are urgently needed.
Meanwhile, updated blood pressure guidelines for British doctors struggling with this life-threatening epidemic are due to be published in the New Year.
Blood pressure is measured in millimetres of mercury and expressed as the maximum pressure blood is pumped from the heart, compared with the minimum pressure between heartbeats.
Anything below 120/80 is considered healthy
There are suggestions that treatment should start at an earlier stage.
A five year British study of more than 8,600 civil servants, published in June, showed that people aged over 45 with raised heart output blood pressure of 130mm – currently below the 140/90 blood pressure treatment threshold – had a 38 per cent higher risk of developing dementia compared to those with a healthy 120/80 or below.
Experts from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) blood pressure working group are deliberating over what blood pressure level should be considered dangerous, and the risks and benefits of putting people on permanent blood pressure treatment.
A NICE spokesman said their draft guidance is due out in February and will take into account evidence that has become available since the original guideline was published in 2011.