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Daily Dark Chocolate Good for the Heart, Loaded With Flavonoids

Here's news that's hard not to like. Eating a small, 1.6-ounce bar of dark chocolate every day is good for you. Very good for you, find Mary Engler, PhD, RN, of the University of California, San Francisco, and colleagues.

Now here is a medical experiment you would love to volunteer for. Engler's team divided 21 healthy adults into two groups. One group got a Dove Dark Chocolate bar every day for two weeks. Like other dark chocolate bars with high-cocoa content, this one is loaded with something called epicatechin. Epicatechin is a particularly active member of a group of compounds called plant flavoniods. Flavoniods keep cholesterol from gathering in blood vessels, reduce the risk of blood clots, and slow down the immune responses that lead to clogged arteries.

The second group that didn't get Dove bars wasn't totally left out. They, too, got dark chocolate bars. But their treats had the flavoniods taken out.

All subjects underwent high-tech evaluation of how well the blood vessels dilate and relax -- an indictor of healthy blood vessel function. Blood vessel stiffness indicates diseased vessels and possible atherosclerosis. Those who got the full-flavonoid chocolate did significantly better. Why? Blood tests showed that high levels of epicatechin were coursing through their arteries.

"This is the longest clinical trial to date to show improvement in blood vessel function from consuming flavonoid-rich dark chocolate daily over an extended period of time," Engler says in a news release. "It is likely that the elevated blood levels of epicatechin triggered the release of active substances that ... increase blood flow in the artery. Better blood flow is good for your heart."

Why Dark Chocolate Is Different

Not all chocolate is created equal. Dark chocolate contains a lot more cocoa than other forms of chocolate. And standard chocolate manufacturing destroys up to half of the flavoniods. But chocolate companies have now learned to make dark chocolate that keeps up to 95% of its flavoniods.

Sure, this seems like a scam. Can't you get more and better flavoniods from other foods? Surprisingly, the answer is "not really." Engler says that dark chocolate

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