The 'forbidden food' that's good for your arteries

Eat more chocolate? It's not often you hear that kind of advice from a doctor -- but today I'm giving you permission to tear open that foil wrapper and treat yourself to a square or two of the best chocolate you can find.

No, it's not a reward for good behavior. Eating chocolate IS good behavior -- it's good for your heart, good for your brain and new research on the health benefits of chocolate shows how it's especially good for your arteries in at least two critical ways.

First, a daily dose of chocolate can improve flow-mediate dilation by 1 percent. FMD, as it's known, is such an important measure of vascular health that even a 1 percent improvement can cut your heart risk by 12 percent.

And second, chocolate can also stop white blood cells from sticking to artery walls, which in turn will help make sure those arteries remain flexible, according to the study in The FASEB Journal.

Put it together, and you have a delicious and healthy habit that can reduce your risk of serious cardiovascular problems, especially if you make it part of an already-healthy lifestyle.

The one caveat here is the obvious one: It's easy to go overboard on chocolate and eat too much -- and too much chocolate contains too much sugar, which can hurt you in other ways.

The new study of the health benefits of chocolate used a fairly large amount of chocolate, too: 70 grams per day, or nearly 2.5 ounces. That's almost the size of a "king-size" Hershey bar, and if you ask me that's probably a little too much.

Eat a little less.

If you're a chocoholic who can't stop once the package is open, buy individually wrapped squares instead to help control your portion size.

I also recommend paying a little more for high-quality dark chocolates with fewer preservatives and other additives. It's worth the extra money, and not just because it's better for you.

It tastes better, too.