Chocolate contains naturally-occurring antioxidants called flavanols and epicatechins (two types of flavonoids). They help keep your blood flowing freely, reduce your blood pressure, and decrease your risk of heart attack and stroke. They also help protect your skin from UV damage from the sun. There's more: Studies have found that adults who eat a little chocolate five times a week have lower BMIs. As if that weren't enough, chocolate has been found to dampen the levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Taken all together, this means that chocolate keeps you looking and feeling younger because it helps you control your blood pressure, avoid wrinkles, keep your skin younger and stay slimmer.

The most recent bit of research news, out of Penn State University, is that when mice were fed a diet that included cocoa, they had less inflammation than mice who didn't get cocoa. If that translates to humans, it means that regularly drinking a cup of hot chocolate could help you avoid some of the effects of diseases such as diabetes. But it's not just as simple as spooning some chocolate powder into a warm glass of milk. If you want to reap the benefits of chocolate, you have to be a little more discerning.

Do: Choose dark chocolate that is at least 70 percent cacao to get enough flavonoids to make a difference.

Don't: Go for any milk chocolate bar off the shelf, which is not only lacking in polyphenol power, but is also probably loaded with added sugar and milk. If those are the first two ingredients on the label, move along.

Do: Limit yourself to about an ounce of chocolate a day in the afternoon or as a mini-dessert after dinner.

Do: Mix a mug of real cocoa with skim milk. (No need to add sugar, which will turn this tasty health drink into a high-calorie treat.)

Do: Enjoy yourself! A little bit of chocolate every day for better heart health, skin and less stress is a win-win-win-win.

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