As the festive season draws nearer there are a number of inevitable events that are going to occur. Firstly, there will be intense, last minute panic when you realise you’ve forgotten to buy a gift for someone you’ve made plans to see within the next 48 hours. They will probably receive some sort of bath and body set or a par of socks.

Secondly, you will have to spend time with at least one person you avoid all year round due to the fear that you might actually punch them in the face. This second event may combine with the first. And finally: there will be chocolate! Hot chocolate, chocolate selection boxes, those tins of weird chocolates that would not be acceptable (or edible) at any other time of year except for Christmas; the holiday season has them all!

So, to ease any dietary-related guilt you feel when the time comes to eat the stacks of chocolate bars awkward acquaintances purchased for you because they don’t actually know much about you, we’ve collected four scientifically proven benefits of chocolate. Enjoy!

Better Brain Function

In a recent study, researchers at Columbia University found that eating chocolate reduces the risks of memory loss. Researchers conducted memory tests on 37 50 – 69 year-olds and found that the participants who had consumed chocolaty drinks filled with large amounts of flavanol every day for three months did far better than their flavanol-deficient counterparts. A similar study by the University of Nottingham suggests that this is due to the fact flavanols increase blood flow to parts of the brain that boost alertness and overall performance.

Good For The Heart

A nine-year-long Swedish study of 31,000 women found that participants who ate just one or two servings of dark chocolate a week managed to cut their risk of heart failure by a third.

In Germany, a study suggests that eating a square of chocolate a day can reduce your blood pressure, minimise your chance of heart attack and shrink your risk of strokes by 39%.

Chocolate’s fantastic affect on the heart is down to antioxidant compounds such as flavanols that protect against the oxidization of LDL (also known as ‘bad cholesterol’). Flavanols keep arteries and veins flexible whilst also making it difficult for cholesterol to settle. It may also interest you to know that dark chocolate can have as much as five times more of these antioxidants in them than an apple.

Weight Loss

Although chocolate is packed with sugar, milk and butter it can also help you to lose weight. An Australian study found that because dark chocolate lowers your blood pressure it can positive effects on your exercise routine.

Meanwhile, the University of Copenhagen found that dark chocolate is more filling than other sugary alternative, therefore reducing cravings for other salty, fatty or sweet snacks.

Sun Protection

Perhaps the most surprising benefit studies have found about chocolate is that it can protect you from sun damage. A London team of researchers asked participants to eat dark chocolate for three months and then time how long it took their skin to react to sunlight. It took the participants twice as long to show any effects at all than those who had not been eating the chocolate. Flavanols are to be celebrated again, as it’s thought they boosted blood-flow to the skin, keeping it hydrated.