Heart attack survivors who eat chocolate twice or more a week can cut their risk of dying from heart disease, a new study suggests.
Researchers found that those who regularly indulged were up to three times less likely to die from the disease than who never ate chocolate.
Even eating chocolate less often can help to protect the heart, researchers have found.
Previous studies have suggested that cocoa could help to lower blood pressure and to improve the flow of flow around the body.
Dr Kenneth Mukamal, from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre in Boston, who co-authored the study, said that the study was not a license to indulge a sweet tooth.
“(The findings were) specific to chocolate - we found no benefit to sweets in general,” he said.
Antioxidants in cocoa were “a likely candidate” to explain the potentially live-saving properties, he added.
Antioxidants are thought to play a role in the aging process and previous studies have suggested that they could help to protect against both heart disease and cancer.
The study looked at 1,169 patients aged between 45 and 70, who had had at least one heart attack.
The team, led by Imre Janszky from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, questioned them about the previous dietary habits and then monitored the patients for an average of another eight years.
The researchers found that there was a link between fatal heart attacks and the amount of chocolate eaten, even after other factors such as obesity, smoking and alcohol consumption, were taken into account.
“Our findings support increasing evidence that chocolate is a rich source of beneficial bioactive compounds,” the researchers concluded, although they called for clinical trials to prove their results.
Dr Mukamal also warned that chocolate should be eaten only in moderation, to avoid weight problems which can increase risks associated with heart problems.
The findings were published in the Journal of Internal Medicine.
By Kate Devlin, Medical Correspondent, Telegraph