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This Wildly Popular Treat Is Actually Good For Your Heart, Study Finds

Is this the best news you've heard in a while, or what?

Unfortunately for sweet tooths, going for those decadent desserts after dinner or feeding a sugar craving has never been high on the list of things doctors would recommend for good health. But if your idea of heaven involves indulging in chocolate, you may not feel as guilty the next time you reach for your favorite sweet snack. According to a recent study, enjoying chocolate more than once a week could be beneficial for your heart.

The robust research, which considered the findings of six studies encompassing data from over 330,000 patients over nine years, discovered that those who go for cocoa more than once a week were 8 percent less likely to develop coronary artery disease than those who held off on the sweet treat. The study authors believe chocolate's effect on the cardiovascular system may put chocoholic patients less at risk for heart attacks in the long run. (Related: 50 Warning Signs You Have Heart Disease.)

"In the past, clinical studies have shown that chocolate is beneficial for both blood pressure and the lining of blood vessels," said Chayakrit Krittanawong, MD, author of the study from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. "I wanted to see if it affects the blood vessels supplying the heart (the coronary arteries) or not. And if it does, is it beneficial or harmful?"

Krittanawong says he attributes the health benefits observed in patients to the naturally occurring heart-healthy nutrients found in chocolate, listing "flavonoids, methylxanthines, polyphenols, and stearic acid, which may reduce inflammation and increase good cholesterol." To break that down more easily, know that flavonoids have been known to help decrease blood clots and strengthen blood vessels, methylxanthines and polyphenols promote cardiovascular health, and stearic acid can help control platelets to reduce the risk of blood clots, the researchers note.

That said, is going to town on those Hershey's bars going to be enough to keep your most vital organ in good shape? Krittanawong says more research is needed, explaining that the type and amount of chocolate that can be beneficial hasn't been exactly pinpointed yet. "Moderate amounts of chocolate seem to protect the coronary arteries, but it's likely that large quantities do not," he warned. "The calories, sugar, milk, and fat in commercially available products need to be considered, particularly in diabetics and obese people."

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Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more about Zachary
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