And now for the really good news: eating chocolate is healthy for you

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Barely a year after acknowledging the health benefits of alcohol, health ministers face a new dilemma; the rehabilitation of chocolate, a dietary taboo for millions.

Two years ago, the Government was ridiculed for its healthy eating advice which stipulated no more than three-quarters of a small bar of chocolate per person per week.

Now scientists from California claim that the fat-laden, sugar-rich, caffeine concoction with its addictive feel-good properties and legendary aphrodisiac powers, is a powerful protector against heart disease.

Not only should we eat more of it, they say, but to extract the maximum benefit for our arteries, we should drink a sip of red wine with each Fresh Coffee Creme or Hazelnut Truffle that passes our lips.

Like red wine, chocolate contains chemicals known as phenols, which prevent the oxidation of low-density lipoproteins ("good" blood fats) into a more dangerous form which clogs up the coronary arteries.

Dr Andrew Waterhouse and colleagues in the Department of Viticulture and Enology at the University of California in Davis, tested a range of confectionary products and found that one piece of milk chocolate had almost the same amount of phenol as a glass of red wine. Plain, dark chocolate contained even more phenol than the milk variety, according to their report in tomorrow's issue of The Lancet.

There is well-documented evidence on the protective effects of red wine against heart disease linked with its high-concentration of phenolic flavonoids.

Further research has suggested that it is the alcohol content which primarily influences the blood fats rather than chemicals present in a particular type of wine.

This lead to the Government's controversial decision to relax its sensible drinking limits late last year.

Dr Waterhouse urges more research into chocolate to demonstrate that it's anti-oxidant properties work in people. But he is hopeful that the "pleasant pairing of red wine and dark chocolate could have synergistic advantages beyond their complementary tastes.