Research published today says chocolate contains high concentrations of antioxidant compounds called catechins, which are believed to protect against cardiovascular diseases and possibly cancer.
The finding by Dutch scientists is good news for the British public, which consumes 500,000 tonnes of chocolate a year. On average, each person consumes nearly three bars of chocolate a week.
The scientists, who published their findings in The Lancet medical journal, found that chocolate accounted for 20 per cent of people's total intake of catechins.
Catechins are strong antioxidants. They are known to mop up destructive molecules called free radicals, which damage cells and help to trigger heart disease and cancer.
The scientists analysed six different catechins in dark chocolate, milk chocolate and tea. Dark chocolate contained 53.5mg of catechins per 100g, milk chocolate contained 15.9mg and black tea had 13.9mg per 100ml.
It is mainly the cocoa that contains the antioxidant, which may mean British chocolate contains slightly less antioxidant than continental chocolate. Many of Britain's best-known brands contain vegetable fat rather than pure cocoa butter. Some British chocolate also contains more milk than continental rivals.
After analysing chocolate's components, the scientists took a sample of 6,250 men and women aged between one and 97 to assess the importance of chocolate as a source of catechins in the average diet. They found that tea made up 55 per cent of the total intake, with chocolate the second-highest contributor at 20 per cent.
The researchers said chocolate might be a more important source for younger people and in countries where tea was less popular.
John Newman, director of Britain's Biscuit, Cake, Chocolate and Confectionery Alliance, said: "We have been aware that there are potential antioxidants in chocolate and this new research is good news for chocolate lovers."
Ilja Arts, of the National Institute of Public Health and Environment in the Netherlands, said: "The old Dutch habit of drinking a cup of tea and eating a chocolate cookie might not only be enjoyable but healthy as well."Reuse content