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Do you feel guilty every time you reach for your favourite chocolate bar? You may be surprised to find out that there are actually health benefits to be had from eating chocolate!

Sure, it’s still high in fat and sugar, but there are some advantages to offset that. Sadly, this doesn’t apply to milk chocolate lovers – it’s the dark stuff that contains all the good health effects, and the higher the cocoa content, the better.

A review of chocolate’s health effects was published in the Netherlands Journal of Medicine, which shows it’s not all bad news for chocolate lovers. Dark chocolate has a high cocoa content, and it’s this that apparently contains the beneficial stuff.

It’s had a bad rap over the years, but now you can feel justified in enjoying chocolate. Just don’t use it as an excuse to overindulge…

It helps increase your happiness levels

It promotes feel-good chemicals in the brain. Chocolate is known to boost levels of serotonin, which produces feelings of well-being, and dopamine, a natural painkiller.

It can lower cholesterol

A Journal of Nutrition study shows that chocolate might help reduce the bad LDL cholesterol level, and improve blood pressure.

It aids memory function

Harvard Medical School have suggested that two cups of hot chocolate per day could help reduce memory decline and keep the brain healthy by improving blood flow to parts of the brain where it is needed.

It could reduce your chance of having a stroke

Chocolate eaters involved in a Canadian study showed that they were 22 per cent less likely to have a stroke than those who didn’t eat chocolate. Eating up to 100 grams a day may be linked to a lower risk of stroke and heart disease.

It’s good for fetal growth and development

A Finnish study found that chocolate reduced the stress of pregnant women, and their babies smiled more often than those of non-chocolate eating mothers.

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It can protect your skin from sun damage

I wouldn’t recommend going without sunscreen, but apparently the flavonols in dark chocolate can protect your skin from sun damage. They can also improve blood flow to the skin, and increase skin hydration.

It’s rich in minerals

Dark chocolate is choc-full (!) of beneficial minerals, like potassium, iron, zinc and selenium. It also contains soluble fibre, which means that you need to eat less of it to feel full.

It can help stop a cough

This is a surprising one, but an ingredient in chocolate called theobromine can reduce activity of the vagus nerve, which is a part of your brain that triggers persistent coughs. Scientists are looking at ways to make cough syrups containing theobromine.