Chocolate is one of the most popular and sought after indulgences worldwide. In addition to being a valuable source of essential micronutrients like iron and magnesium, chocolate contains powerful all-natural chemicals that prevent disease and promote overall good health. Here are some reasons why you shouldn’t feel an ounce of guilt when treating yourself to an occasional piece of chocolate.

Improves Cholesterol Levels

There’s ample evidence suggesting that you can greatly improve your cholesterol levels and the overall functioning of your arteries by enjoying a piece of dark chocolate on occasion. Dark chocolate contains polyphenol antioxidants that help boost HDL “good” cholesterol. This cholesterol is responsible for removing LDL (“bad”) cholesterol from the arterial walls, which is a good thing since buildup of LDL cholesterol is what causes heart attack and stroke.

Related Article: Eating to Naturally Lower Your Cholesterol

Helps Lower Blood Pressure

High blood pressure increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, and kidney failure. A substantial amount of research suggests that regularly consuming pure dark chocolate or cocoa powder can effectively lower blood pressure in people with diagnosed hypertension or borderline high-blood pressure. This occurs primarily because chemicals in dark chocolate stimulate a dilation (widening) of blood vessels in such a way that promotes healthy blood flow thereby reducing blood pressure.

Related Article: Effective Strategies for Avoiding Hypertension

Potent Source of Probiotics

Dark chocolate is an extremely potent source of probiotics, which are commonly referred to as “friendly” or “good” bacteria, as they offer a wide range of health benefits. When consumed regularly, probiotics have been shown to greatly improve digestion and reduce the risk of gastrointestinal disturbances, alleviate lactose intolerance, and greatly boost immunity.

Related Article: Probiotics: How to Up Your Intake of This Friendly Bacteria

Mood-Boosting Food

The act of eating chocolate has long been associated with pleasure and overall improvements in mood but there’s actually evidence to substantiate this. Cocoa polyphenols in chocolate have been shown to promote relaxation and enhance calmness by reducing general anxiety. They also stimulate the release of endorphins, which are often referred to as the body’s “feel good” hormones.

Related Article: Anxiety and Sleep Deprivation: How to Sleep Better

Natural Appetite Suppressant

Consuming dark chocolate has been shown to beneficially suppress appetite by reducing hunger and increasing satiation, which is the feeling of fullness in the stomach. In fact, the mere act of smelling chocolate has actually been shown to enhance fullness sensations. In addition, eating a piece of dark chocolate just prior to a meal can help you eat less and may even help reduce your total food consumption throughout the day.

Related Article: Natural Ways to Suppress Hunger and Appetite for Weight Loss

Now, the many benefits of chocolate apply only to high-quality, pure dark chocolate and minimally processed cocoa powders with a cocoa content of 70% or more. Since all types of chocolate house a significant amount of calories, monitor your portions and err on the side of about 1.5 ounces a day.