Here's even more evidence that chocolate could be good for the heart.
A new review of research, published in the Cochrane Library, suggests that consuming dark chocolate or cocoa powder every day is linked with slightly lowered blood pressure.
"Although we don't yet have evidence for any sustained decrease in blood pressure, the small reduction we saw over the short term might complement other treatment options and might contribute to reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease," study researcher Karin Ried, of the National Institute of Integrative Medicine in Australia, said in a statement.
The researchers conducted their meta-analysis of20 different trials that included 856 people. Trials lasted for different lengths, from two weeks to eight weeks to even 18 weeks, and included eating anywhere from 30 to 1,080 milligrams of flavanols (what is found in anywhere from 3 to 100 grams of chocolate) every day.
The researchers found that consuming flavanol-containing chocolate or cocoa powder was linked with, on average, a decreased blood pressure of 2 to 3 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg).
Flavanols are a kind of antioxidant compound -- also found in foods like chocolate, cranberries, tea and red wine -- that are largely responsible for chocolate's heart benefits, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
The researchers found that in trials comparing consumption of flavanol-containing chocolate or cocoa powder compared with foods that had no flavanol at all, the blood pressure-lowering effect was even greater, dropping by an average of 3 to 4 mm Hg.
However, they didn't observe any big drops in blood pressure in trials comparing consumption of high flavanol-containing cocoa powder or chocolate with low flavanol-containing cocoa powder or chocolate, which they said might be because even low-flavanol foods could still provide some sort of blood pressure benefit.
Earlier this year, a study in the British Medical Journal showed that dark chocolate consumption is linked with a decreased risk of heart attack and stroke in some people at risk for the conditions, Reuters reported. The study included more than 2,000 people with metabolic syndrome who ate dark chocolate every day for a decade.
One note before you pig out: Not all chocolate products are alike -- some are loaded with fat and calories, and the health benefits described in studies are limited mainly to dark chocolate and cocoa powder. So enjoy responsibly!
For more health benefits of chocolate, click through the slideshow:
Chocolate Decreases Stroke Risk
A 2011 Swedish study found that women who ate more than 45 grams of chocolate a week had a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/11/chocolate-stroke-prevention_n_1004426.html" target="_hplink">20 percent lower risk of stroke</a> than women who treated themselves to fewer than 9 grams of the sweet stuff.
Chocolate Boosts Heart Health
Regular chocolate eaters welcome a host of benefits for their hearts, including <a href="http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/298/1/49" target="_hplink">lower blood pressure</a>, <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2001/10/011024073452.htm" target="_hplink">lower "bad" LDL cholesterol</a> and a <a href="http://www.bmj.com/content/343/bmj.d4488" target="_hplink">lower risk of heart disease</a>. One of the reasons dark chocolate is especially heart-healthy is its inflammation-fighting properties, which <a href="http://www.livescience.com/2886-chocolate-helps-heart-stay-healthy.html" target="_hplink">reduce cardiovascular risk</a>. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/chocolatereviews/4295028171/" target="_hplink">Lee McCoy</a></em>
Chocolate Fills You Up
Because it's rich in fiber, dark chocolate can actually help keep you full, so you'll eat less, Dr. David Katz, founding director of Yale University's Prevention Research Center and HuffPost blogger <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/26/chocolate-eating-lower-bmi-body-mass-index_n_1379368.html" target="_hplink">told The Huffington Post</a>. Regular chocolate eaters might do themselves a favor by treating themselves to a bite instead of snacking on "11 other things first" he said. Dark chocolate does the trick much better than milk, according to a small study from the University of Copenhagen, and <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081210091039.htm" target="_hplink">may even reduce cravings</a> for sweet, salty and fatty foods. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/veganfeast/4216679799/" target="_hplink">Vegan Feast Catering</a></em>
Chocolate May Fight Diabetes
A small Italian study from 2005 found that regularly eating chocolate <a href="http://www.ajcn.org/content/81/3/611.abstract" target="_hplink">increases insulin sensitivity</a>, thereby <a href="http://www.womenshealthmag.com/health/benefits-of-chocolate?page=4" target="_hplink">reducing risk for diabetes</a>. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/integer_club/5494506008/" target="_hplink">The Integer Club</a></em>
Chocolate Protects Your Skin
Forget what you've heard about chocolate causing breakouts: Dark chocolate is actually good for your skin. The type of antioxidants called flavonoids found in dark chocolate offer some <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16702322" target="_hplink">protection from UV damage</a> from the sun. And no, that does not mean you can skip the sunscreen!
Chocolate Can Quiet Coughs
Can't stop coughing? An ingredient in chocolate called <a href="http://www.womenshealthmag.com/health/benefits-of-chocolate?page=8" target="_hplink">theobromine seems to reduce activity of the vagus nerve</a>, the part of the brain that triggers hard-to-shake coughs. In late 2010, the BBC reported that scientists were investigating creating a <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-12048275" target="_hplink">drug containing theobromine</a> to preplace cough syrups containing codeine, which can have risky side effects. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/ryanboren/2899151607/" target="_hplink">ryancboren</a></em>
Chocolate Boosts Your Mood
There's no denying that indulging your sweet tooth every once in a while feels great. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-patricia-fitzgerald/7-healthy-reasons-to-enjo_b_257159.html" target="_hplink">Enjoying food is part of enjoying life</a>, points out HuffPost Healthy Living's wellness editor, Dr. Patricia Fitzgerald. Chocolate eaters also report <a href="http://www.livescience.com/7974-chocolate-reduces-stress-study-finds.html" target="_hplink">feeling less stressed</a>. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevendepolo/3786631395/" target="_hplink">stevendepolo</a></em>
Chocolate Improves Blood Flow
Cocoa has <a href="http://www.ajcn.org/content/72/1/30.abstract?ijkey=81b06eb4f0ad8ec254f63a0b0eb8f81aba944e8d&keytype2=tf_ipsecsha" target="_hplink">anti-clotting, blood-thinning properties</a> that work in a similar way to aspirin, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-patricia-fitzgerald/7-healthy-reasons-to-enjo_b_257159.html" target="_hplink">Dr. Fitzgerald writes</a>, which can improve blood flow and circulation. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/davidberkowitz/6814174341/" target="_hplink">David Berkowitz</a></em>
Chocolate Improves Vision
Because of chocolate's ability to improve blood flow, in particular to the brain, researchers at the University of Reading hypothesized in a small 2011 study that chocolate may also <a href="http://bodyodd.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/08/08/7268604-skip-the-carrots-chocolate-improves-eyesight-too" target="_hplink">increase blood flow to the retina</a>, thereby giving vision a boost. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/29233640@N07/6656970895/" target="_hplink">Robert Couse-Baker</a></em>
Chocolate May Make You Smarter
That boost of blood flow to the brain created by cocoa's flavanols seems to make people feel more awake and alert, and, in a small British study, <a href="http://www.livescience.com/3443-chocolate-helps-math.html" target="_hplink">perform better on counting tasks</a>.