A square of dark chocolate a day could keep the cardiologist away

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Dark chocolate has joined Guinness, sherry and red wine on the list of foods and drinks that are good for the heart, because it boosts blood vessel function.

Dark chocolate has joined Guinness, sherry and red wine on the list of foods and drinks that are good for the heart, because it boosts blood vessel function.

Research found that plain chocolate containing high levels of cocoa is rich in flavonoids, the anti-oxidant chemicals that reduce the stickiness of the blood and counter the inflammation of the blood vessels.

Research published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition shows that eating a few squares of dark chocolate daily increases the ability of the blood vessels to dilate, a key measure of the health of the circulatory system.

A group of of 11 volunteers were given 46 grams of dark chocolate rich in flavonoids daily for two weeks and compared with a control group of 10 volunteers who were given dark chocolate low in flavonoids. At the end of the two weeks, the arteries of the group that had eaten the flavonoid-rich chocolate had a greater capacity to expand, up from 10.2 per cent to 11. 5 per cent, compared with a reduction in the control group. The senior researcher, Mary Engler, of the University of California, said: "Arteries that are able to dilate more have increased blood flow and this is especially important for the heart."

Researchers believe they know why heart attacks are common in the morning.

Doctors from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, measured blood vessel expansion in 30 healthy volunteers and found it was reduced by more than 40 per cent in the early morning, returning to normal by midday.

The study was published in the journal Circulation.

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