When you think about taking steps to improve your diet, one of the first things you think about cutting out is candy and when you think of candy, you think of chocolate. But not so fast! More and more researchers say that you not only shouldn’t give it up, but also that you should eat more of it!

Let’s first specify that you have to be eating the right kind of chocolate. We are talking here about high-quality dark chocolate containing at least 70 percent cocoa. So, although you don’t have to give it up all together, you do have to upgrade if you currently gravitate toward standard milk chocolate. Here are some of the ways that chocolate can be a health food:

1. Reduce risk of heart disease and stroke

Chocolate appears to help your circulation in two ways. First, it helps the blood vessels remain more flexible rather than becoming stiffer as you age. Second, it decreases the tendency of blood cells to stick to the interior walls of blood vessels. Hardening blood vessels and buildup of blockages inside the veins and arteries are two big factors that can lead to heart attack and stroke.

2. Help prevent diabetes

As odd as it sounds, chocolate appears to help prevent diabetes. Researchers believe that a main cause of adult-onset diabetes (type 2) is inflammation in the body, which over time, increases your resistance to insulin. Chocolate instead decreases that resistance, delaying or even preventing the onset of diabetes.

3. Improve brain function

At least one study has shown that after having a hot chocolate drink, students did better in tests of counting by groups of numbers. So if you snack on chocolate while studying for finals, you may be helping your grades. The anti-inflammatory properties of chocolate have also been shown to help speed healing after concussion and improve memory in older persons.

4. Help prevent cancer

Some research has shown that the flavonoids in cocoa may help prevent or repair cell damage that leads to tumor growth. A 2005 Georgetown University study found that when they treated cancer cells with pentamer, a compound found naturally in cocoa, the cancer cells stopped dividing because the pentamer suppressed the proteins they needed.

5. Help you lose weight

It’s true! Neuroscience researchers discovered that patients ate less food after allowing a small square of high-quality dark chocolate to melt on their tongue about 20 minutes before eating. Chemicals in the chocolate trigger the release of a hormone that signals your body that it feels full and satisfied, so you find it easier to stop eating after a smaller amount of food. In the same way, eating a small square of dark chocolate after a meal can help you fight the urge to snack later on.

Remember that you have to eat the right kinds of chocolate. Most chocolate in candy is highly processed with added chemicals and sugars, while reducing or eliminating the helpful chemicals. Choose dark chocolate that is only lightly sweetened and has a high amount of cocoa in it. You can also get the benefits of chocolate by adding cocoa powder to smoothies or making your own healthy hot chocolate mix.

Keep in mind that even the healthiest chocolate adds calories to your diet. Just one or two squares per day from the right kind of chocolate bar will give you all the health benefits without significantly increasing your calorie intake.

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