Few among us can resist a gooey dessert or tasty chocolate bar. Rumor has it that chocolate is a guilt-free treat because it is good for the heart. But is it really? Does chocolate have benefits that make it a healthy food choice?

Experts say yes—but with a few caveats. In honor of World Chocolate Day on July 7, we dig in to learn more.

3 Heart Benefits of Chocolate

Dark chocolate—the healthier kind of chocolate—benefits your heart in several ways. The most notable benefits include the following:

  • Reduces inflammation: Chronic inflammation has long been linked to a variety of health conditions, including heart disease. Research presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society revealed the healthy bacteria found in dark chocolate promotes good gut health. That results in lower inflammation in the body and a lower risk for heart disease and stroke.
  • Lowers blood pressure: A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that the cocoa polyphenols in dark chocolate can help those with mild hypertension increase blood flow and slightly lower their blood pressure. Forty-four participants aged 56 through 73 consumed about six grams of dark chocolate per day for 18 weeks; 86 percent of participants had high blood pressure at the start of the study. By the end of the 18 weeks, that number fell to 68 percent.
  • Cholesterol support: Another way dark chocolate promotes better heart health is by raising HDL, the “good” form of cholesterol, and slightly lowering LDL, the “bad” type of cholesterol. Researchers say this change is likely linked to the polyphenols in cocoa powder and dark chocolate.

Other health benefits associated with the flavanols in dark chocolate include improved eyesight, a short-term (about two or three hours) brain boost, and a small amount of sun protection.

Experts caution that you shouldn’t use this information as an excuse to consume large quantities of chocolate every day, though. To provide health benefits, dark chocolate should have at least 70 percent cocoa content and be low in sugar. In most cases, a few bites a day will do.

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