It may be hard to believe that something as delicious as chocolate could actually be good for you, but it's true. According to a growing body of research, America's favorite sweet treat comes with a host of surprising health benefits: from regulating your blood pressure to reducing your risk of dementia. Read on for five guilt-free reasons to indulge in this delectable dessert:

1. Improves Cholesterol Levels:  A study conducted at Penn State University found that people who ate a diet rich in cocoa powder and dark chocolate had lower oxidation levels of LDL "bad" cholesterol and higher levels of HDL "good" cholesterol. 

2. Regulates Blood Pressure. According to a German study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, a bite of dark chocolate a day may help regulate high blood pressure. The study's authors suspect that the cocoa increases levels of nitric oxide, a compound that helps to relax and open the blood vessels.

3. Builds Muscles. It might seem like a strange choice for a sports drink, but chocolate milk may help boost athletic performance. In an Indiana University study, cyclists who drank chocolate milk between workouts scored better on fatigue and endurance tests than those who consumed standard sports beverages.

4. Boosts Your Brainpower. According to the National Alzheimer's Association, consuming dark chocolate can help reduce your chances of developing dementia later in life. In fact, a local chapter of the organization recently included dark chocolate in all the gift baskets it gave to attendees at the Maintain Your Brain program.

5. Fights Disease. Cornell University researchers recently found that cocoa contains nearly twice the disease-fighting antioxidants of red wine and up to three times more than green tea.