Editor’s Note: Dr. Roberta Lee is vice chair of the Department of Integrative Medicine, director of Continuing Medical Education and co-director of the Fellowship in Integrative Medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. Her new book, The SuperStress Solution, will be published by Random House in January.

If you love chocolate, you’re not alone. Believe it or not, the average person in the United States consumes approximately 12 pounds a year! But I recommend that my patients — especially those who are chronically stressed, or what I would describe as SuperStressed – eat far more than that seemingly excessive amount. Sure, chocolate is a calorie-laden food (cocoa butter is the main culprit). But in my opinion, the benefits of this treat outweigh the caloric load, as long as you keep the portion small – specifically, one ounce of high quality and high cocoa mass chocolate per day. Here’s why:

  • On a gram-for-gram basis, chocolate has a terrifically high concentration of antioxidants known as flavonoids — more than berries and spinach, even! Flavonoids have been shown to lower high blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease and strokes.
  • Chocolate is rich in magnesium and potassium, two minerals that help promote the “relaxation response,” as well as iron and zinc, which are minerals that many people don’t often get enough of during the course of the day. Chocolate also contains a good amount of selenium, which enhances immune health.
  • Chocolate contains several psychoactive compounds — phenylethylamine (PEA), theobromine and arachidonoylethanolamine — that some consider responsible for the mood lift many of us experience when eating it. In other words, if we are happy, we just might stay happier longer with a little chocolate.

Of course, there’s also ample consumer-proven evidence that chocolate tastes good, and that eating it can provide a little respite from our otherwise hectic days. And to me, that’s what’s so special about this sweet treat. It’s inexpensive and pleasurable enough that if it’s something you like, I say: Go for it. The ideal cocoa mass is 75% or more — this will be clear on the label and is most often found in dark chocolate — and the ideal portion is one ounce (about one-third of an average bar, or roughly the size of the palm of a woman’s hand). Doctor’s orders!