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Does Christmas time (and the pandemic) automatically make you want to eat your way through the entire month of December?

What do you usually reach for? Fruit? Veggies? Of course, those are the healthy choices, but chocolate may be a sweet treat that’s as yummy as it is healthy. But, not just any old chocolate will do. We’re talking about dark chocolate. 

A review, published on July 23 in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, has given us yet another reason to love the goodness that is chocolate.

The study found that people who ate one or more servings of chocolate in a week were less likely by 10% to have heart disease than people who ate less.

Study author Dr. Chayakrit Krittanawong, of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, said, “Chocolate contains several nutrients that may benefit the heart.” He goes onto explain that “This is an observational study, meaning we cannot conclude [a cause-and-effect] relationship that eating chocolate can prevent or reduce heart disease. However, we can see some scientific signals that eating chocolate is probably beneficial to the heart in certain circumstances.”

What’s more, the researchers said it contains many beneficial nutrients like flavonoids that may lower inflammation and increase good (HDL) cholesterol, which contributes to the health of the blood vessels. 

The review included six studies with over 336,000 people. Most were from the United States, almost 69,000 were from Sweden, and 1,200 were from Australia.

For an average of nine years, the participants’ health was closely monitored. Of the 336,000 participants, more than 14,000 developed heart disease, and almost 4,700 had a heart attack.

The researchers suggested that there were some limitations to the review, noting that they weren’t able to control for lifestyle factors, such as physical activity. And they didn’t have specific data on the types of chocolate the participants ate. 

And the type of chocolate matters.

Cardiologist Dr. John Osborne, from State of the Heart Cardiology in Dallas, reviewed the findings and explained that the beneficial nutrients come from the chocolate itself, which is why health experts typically recommend dark chocolate. Dark chocolate simply has fewer ingredients and isn’t laden with the common culprits of milk, fats, and sugars. 

Dr. Osborne cautioned, “If you’re going to use chocolate for its possible health benefits, don’t have more than an ounce of dark chocolate a day. You can get similar nutrients from vegetables and fruits, though.” He went on to warn, “The benefit from this review seemed to be pretty modest. A chocolate a day — or every week — is not necessarily going to keep the cardiologist away.”

From Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, Dr. Len Horovitz also looked over the review. He agreed that while chocolate might have some benefits, he warned “You want the right ingredients. You can’t have as much as you want. You can have a little bit, maybe one small piece of chocolate a day, but you need to remember there are calories and sugar and fat, too.”

We know that diet and exercise are crucial to maintaining a healthy body weight and overall health, but we also know that it’s ok to reach a tasty treat with heart health benefits. So, go ahead! Savor an ounce of that delectable, melt-in-your-mouth chocolately smoothness. It’ll do your heart good and make your taste buds dance with delight.