A new study has found that specially-formulated dark chocolate bars, when eaten in conjunction with a low-fat diet, can help to lower cholesterol and blood pressure.
Scientists at the University of Illinois and the confectionery giant Mars carried out a study involving 49 men and women with high cholesterol which is now published in the Journal of Nutrition.
Participants were required to consume a healthy diet and eat a flavanol-rich dark chocolate bar every day for four weeks.
Some of the participants had chocolate bars that contained added plant sterols, while others were sterol-free.
The researchers found that people who ate the bars containing plant sterols benefited from a two per cent reduction in total cholesterol and a 5.3 per cent decrease in LDL ('bad' cholesterol).
In addition, the bars were also associated with a five per cent reduction in systolic blood pressure after eight weeks and participants did not gain weight during the experiment.
However, those eating the regular dark chocolate bars gained no such health benefits.
Study co-author Dr Catherine Kwik-Uribe, who is a research scientist at Mars, said that people are increasingly looking for foods that help maintain health.
"Our study supports the possibility that chocolate products specially formulated to contain both plant sterols and cocoa flavanols can, in the context of a balanced diet, be a practical and enjoyable dietary strategy to help support healthy cholesterol levels and a healthy blood pressure," she concluded.