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Chocolate: Good, And Good For You

Who hasn't been heartened — literally — with the news from scientists that chocolate is more than just a treat?

New studies show that chocolate and its key ingredient, cocoa, have some major health benefits. In its purest form, chocolate can lower blood pressure, help muscles recover from exercise, improve skin, provide antioxidants and even give us a thrill that rivals a passionate kiss.

However, Health magazine senior food and nutrition editor Frances Largeman-Roth warns that this isn't license to binge.

On "The Saturday Early Show," Largeman-Roth points out that the average bar of dark chocolate — the kind that has the most health benefits — has around 400 calories … "and if the bar has any nuts or caramel in it, it'll cost you more" calorie-wise, she adds.

Her advice: "The best thing to do is savor a small piece of really good chocolate."

If you're able to restrict yourself to a small daily dose, you'll experience some heart-healthy benefits.

"Cocoa improves blood flow, makes blood platelets less sticky — which helps prevent clotting — and also has a positive effect on bad cholesterol. This is due to the antioxidant effect of cocoa, which helps reduce inflammation, which we now understand to be the root of many diseases," she tells CBS News.

Another recent eye-opening study, this one by German researchers, showed that women who drank a half-cup of enriched cocoa every day for three months developed skin that was smoother and had more moisture. Furthermore, the women's skin was less scaly and red after it was exposed to ultraviolet light.

"It is surprising, especially after all those stories about chocolate making you break out," says Largeman-Roth. "It turns out that the flavonoids in chocolate help protect the skin and increase blood flow, which makes it look more refreshed and smooth."

Most recently, British researchers reporting finding that people get more of a buzz from eating chocolate than from a passionate kiss.

"The researchers put electrodes on young couples in their 20s and tested their heart rate and brain activity while eating dark chocolate and then while kissing their sweeties," says Largeman-Roth.

"Surprisingly, heart rate and brain activity both increased far more with the chocolate than with the kissing. And actually, all areas of the brain were stimulated when the chocolate melted on their tongues. Kissing did increase the heart rate, but not for as long."

One word of caution: white chocolate, though delicious, doesn't pack any kind of healthy punch because it doesn't have any cocoa solids, the ingredient that makes dark chocolate so magical.

And some studies were based on having participants eating three or more ounces a day, a heavy caloric load. "But the good news," says Largeman-Roth, "is that researchers say you don't need to eat that much to have an effect — even a bit of chocolate a day can do some good."