For years medical experts have suspected that there is more to dark chocolate than irresistible taste and an aura of pure sensuousness. In March of this year, their suspicions began to look more than ever like facts. Researchers announced that, when eaten daily in small amounts, dark chocolate appears to lower the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Its heart-healthy side emerged following an eight-year study in Germany involving nearly 20,000 people—the largest investigation of chocolate’s effects ever conducted over such an extended time period.

Researchers observed that participants who ate an average of six grams of dark chocolate per day had a 39 percent lower heart attack or stroke risk than the folks who ate the least amount. Reduced blood pressure was also noted among dark chocolate fans.

Despite the evidence of dark chocolate’s value as a preventive health measure, more research is necessary. Reason: this study was based on observed results rather than results arrived at through scientific procedures designed to determine chocolate’s exact impact on the body.

What convinces so many people of dark chocolate’s ability to protect the heart is its main ingredient, the cocoa bean. Because cocoa comes from plants, it contains the good things found in the most healthful fruits and vegetables. Among these are flavanoids that function as antioxidants and fight heart-harmful free radicals.

Flavanoids also keep the bad cholesterol (LDL) out of blood vessels, reduce the risk of blood clots and slow down immune responses that lead to clogged arteries.

As if all this isn’t enough to put a smile on your face, dark chocolate also contains serotonin, which acts as an anti-depressant.

The only glitch in this whole happy story is the fact that eating dark chocolate can quickly pile up plenty of pounds on you. And excess weight severely decreases cocoa’s positive effects.

You can—and should—get off the horns of this dilemma by eliminating certain foods from your daily menu to offset the extra calories chocolate brings to the table. Sweets and high-fat snacks are ideal candidates. Another solution is to expand your exercise regimen, or start one if you are of the couch potato persuasion.

Six grams of dark chocolate put a lot of good health in a small package, but don’t expect milk or white chocolate to do the same thing. As good as they might taste, neither one has the antioxidants to promote better health.

Only the dark variety can sweeten that deal.