Page last updated at 11:10 GMT, Thursday, 6 May 2010 12:10 UK

Search on for chocoholic volunteers

squares of milk chocolate
Milk chocolate contains less polyphenol than dark chocolate.

It sounds like a health study made in heaven - volunteers will have chocolate delivered to their homes and be encouraged to eat 50 grams every day for eight weeks.

Researchers are to recruit 110 Northern Ireland people with high blood pressure for the opening stage of a three-year project starting in August.

The aim is to discover if a high fruit and vegetable diet incorporating dark chocolate and berries - which are all rich in important compounds called polyphenols - is better for the cardiovascular system than a diet low in fruit and vegetables.

The research at Queen's University is funded by Northern Ireland Chest, Heart & Stroke and the NI Research and Development Office.

Dr Pascal McKeown, who is leading the study, said: "The important thing to stress is that the chocolate we will be using will be very high in cocoa, at least 70%.

The important thing to stress is that the chocolate we will be using will be very high in cocoa, at least 70%. Standard milk chocolate has nothing like the polyphenol content of dark chocolate.
Dr Pascal McKeown

"Standard milk chocolate has nothing like the polyphenol content of dark chocolate."

One group of patients will be put on a low polyphenol diet, probably the average UK diet of two portions of fruit and vegetables per day.

Another group will be encouraged to eat six portions of fruit and vegetables, including one portion of berries, each day, together with the 50g of dark chocolate.

"We will examine people's blood vessel health and the stickiness of their blood at the start and end of the study to discover whether a diet rich in polyphenols can reduce the risk of developing heart disease," Dr McKeown said.

Andrew Dougal of NI Chest, Heart and Stroke said: "This is a great example of high quality local research which has the potential to benefit first and foremost the people of Northern Ireland, but also have applications further afield.

"We hope it will provide a solid evidence base for fine-tuning the government's advice on healthy eating."

The bad news for chocoholics is that the researchers are not yet looking for members of the public to sign up to the chocolate and berry research.



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