We all love a sweet treat now and again – and now studies have shown that eating chocolate might actually be good for us!

New research suggests eating a small amount of chocolate daily can help cut the risk of death from heart disease and stroke by as much as 25%.

The findings are based on a 12-year study that tracked the impact of diet on long-term health, surveying 25,000 men and women from Norfolk. When compared to those who ate none, people who indulged in chocolate were linked to an 11% lower risk of cardiovascular disease, along with a 25% lower risk of death.

The healing powers of cocoa

This isn’t the first time researchers have stumbled across the health benefits of chocolate – cocoa has been used in folk medicine for thousands of years, and more recently scientific investigation has helped explain why.

Cocoa is rich in polyphenolic flavonoids – this powerful antioxidant helps guard against heart disease by decreasing blood pressure, improving blood vessel health and lowering cholesterol. It’s also known for its anti-inflammatory properties.

Until now, research has suggested the best way to enjoy the health benefits of chocolate are to get as close to the source as possible: rich dark chocolate with 70 – 85% cocoa is low in sugar and as healthy as it is delicious. An 100g serving offers plenty of fatty acids, plus 11 grams of fibre along with nutrients like iron, copper, magnesium, potassium and zinc.

This latest study also suggests you can enjoy some of the same heart-friendly health benefits in milk chocolate, too. Professor Phyio Myint of Aberdeen University, who conducted the research, thinks the results may indicate that flavonoids aren’t the only source of goodness – the fatty acids and calcium from the milk may also play an important part.

Getting your daily dose

Though the study found a link between chocolate and the risk of cardiovascular disease, its authors aren’t exactly advocating an increase in chocolate consumption.

Like anything in life, it’s all about balance – so while chocolate won’t necessarily increase your risk of heart attack and stroke, overdoing it just might. 100 grams of chocolate works out to roughly two chocolate bars. By adding this to your daily diet you also add 530 calories, 56 grams of sugar and 30.5 grams of fat, which can all lead to a negative impact on your cardiovascular health.

So what’s the takeaway message here? As part of an otherwise healthy diet, eating chocolate in moderation isn’t so bad after all – so go ahead and enjoy the occasional treat.