A new study presented today at the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine’s annual meeting in Atlanta suggests pregnant women don’t necessarily have to feel guilty about giving into their chocolate cravings. According to the research, eating chocolate can help promote good placental and fetal circulation—a factor that may decrease a woman’s risk of preeclampsia.

This findings are based off the results of a double-blind randomized clinical trial—a trial in which neither the participants nor the researchers are aware of who is given what experimental medication— conducted by researchers affiliated with the Université Laval Québec City in Canada. For the study, 129 women during the 11th and 14th week of their gestation consumed chocolate every day for 12 weeks. Although all the women were given 30 grams of chocolate to eat each day, some women were given chocolate which was high in flavanol while others were given low flavanol chocolate. The women also had their preeclampsia, gestational hypertension, placental weight, and birthweight evaluated.

According to the University of California, San Francisco, flavanol is a naturally-occurring compound largely responsible for the antioxidant effect of many fruits, teas, and wines. The compound works by increasing the circulation of angiogenic cells, which are critical for blood vessel tissue repair.

After the 12 weeks of controlled chocolate eating there seemed to be no clear change in the participants preeclampsia, gestational hypertension, placental weight, or birthweight. However, according to a recent statement on the presentation, there was a difference in the uterine artery Doppler pulsatility index, a tool that can help doctors understand both placental and fetal circulations, that was far greater than what was expected.

According to a recent statement from Dr. Emmanuel Bujold, one of the researchers involved in the study, these results indicate that “chocolate could have a positive impact on the placenta and fetal growth and development.” However, at this point it’s not clear as to why chocolate has this positive effect on pregnant women, and Bujoid suggested that factors other than flavanol content may play a role.

What’s more, according to the press release, since preeclampsia largely affects the blood pressure of pregnant women, the circulation-promoting effects of chocolate may help reduce a woman’s risk of developing this sometimes life-threatening condition.

Chocolate has previously been linked to other health benefits, such as a study published last year that suggested chocolate consumption could lower one's risk of heart disease. The long-term study also proposed that it was more than the chocolate’s flavonoids responsible for this positive effect, and suggested that milk components such as calcium and fatty acids may also play a role.

Source: Bujold E, Dodin S, et al. The Benefits of Chocolate During Pregnancy. Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine's Annual Pregnancy Meeting. 2016