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The pros and cons of a chocolatey treat

Feb. 11, 2018—Valentine's Day is almost here! And you know what that means: a flood of news stories about the health benefits of chocolate. But does chocolate really offer goodness beyond its delicious taste?

The answer could be a qualified yes. The cocoa beans in chocolate contain antioxidants called flavanols. And antioxidants are believed to reduce damage to cells. Since damaged cells can lead to cancer, it follows that chocolate could help prevent cancer.

But that logic may be flawed. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), research looking into chocolate's effect on cancer is mixed at best. Some studies have found that chocolate reduces the risk for certain cancers. Some have not. And others have even found that eating chocolate actually raises cancer risk.

But the heart can always hope—and the heart is where chocolate may bestow its health benefits. Flavanols have been shown to lower blood pressure and improve the function of your heart, veins and arteries, according to the ACS.

And here's another possible thumbs-up for chocolate's heart-healthy benefits: People who indulge in 100 grams of chocolate a day have a lower risk of stroke and heart disease than those who abstain, a large observational study found.

When a craving hits: Go easy

So what's the take-home message? Here's how the ACS weighs in: High-quality dark chocolate with at least 70 percent cacao/cocoa may benefit your heart to some extent.

But remember: Dark chocolate is still candy, and those extra calories can add up. So eat it sparingly. And check the label. Sugar should not be in the first ingredients.

Of course, too much of a good thing can hurt in the long run. Chocolate and other sugary snacks can lead to extra pounds—and hurt your heart.

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