Who doesn’t love chocolate? We want chocolate in our breakfast, our lunch, our snacks, our vending machines and after dinner.
Unfortunately, chocolate receives a lot of bad press because of its high fat and sugar content. Its consumption has been associated with acne, obesity, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, and diabetes. We are taught from an early age that chocolate isn’t good for us. About 45 percent of women in the U.S. report that they have chocolate cravings, and research shows that, unlike men, many women have feelings of guilt when eating this potentially “forbidden” food, or they fight the urge to eat it at all.
So what if we told you that eating dark chocolate could clear your complexion, lower your blood pressure, and reduce your risk of heart failure? The benefits of chocolate might seem like some too-good-to-be-true scam, but they aren’t. Chocolate really is good for you—in moderation of course. But the benefits depend on the type of chocolate in which you choose to indulge.
Dark chocolate is loaded with nutrients that can positively affect your health. Made from the seed of the cacao tree, it’s one of the best sources of antioxidants you can find, and studies show that dark chocolate can improve your health and lower the risk of heart disease.
So let’s have a look at the health benefits of dark chocolate or cocoa that are supported by science.
Chocolate’s antioxidant potential can have a range of health benefits. The higher the cocoa content, as in dark chocolate, the more benefits there are. Dark chocolate may also contain less fat and sugar, but it is important to always check the label and choose quality chocolate rather than inexpensive, sugar-loaded one. Some of the benefits of eating chocolate include lowering cholesterol levels, preventing cognitive decline and reducing the risk of cardiovascular problems.
People who regualarly eat dark chocolate report that they feel less stressed, and researchers confirm that after eating dark chocolate, there are indeed reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This may be related to dark chocolate’s effects on heart health, as stress is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
Consuming dark chocolate can reduce some risk factors for heart disease. In a controlled study, cocoa powder was found to significantly decrease oxidized LDL (bad) cholesterol in men. It also increased HDL and lowered total LDL for those with high cholesterol. A study published in The Journal of Nutrition suggests that chocolate consumption might help reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels, also known as “bad cholesterol”.
The authors of the study concluded that regular consumption of chocolate bars, as part of a low-fat diet, may support cardiovascular health by lowering cholesterol and improving blood pressure. The flavanols in dark chocolate can also reduce insulin resistance, which is another common risk factor for diseases like heart disease and diabetes.
Chocolate contains a decent amount of soluble fiber and is loaded with minerals. In addition, it has plenty of potassium, phosphorus, zinc, and selenium. But cocoa and dark chocolate have a wide variety of powerful antioxidants too. In fact, they have way more than most other foods. Dark chocolate is loaded with organic compounds that are biologically active and function as antioxidants.
These include polyphenols, flavanols and catechins, among others. One study even showed that cocoa and dark chocolate had more antioxidant activity, polyphenols, and flavanols than any other fruits tested, which included blueberries and acai berries!
The bioactive compounds in dark chocolate may also be great for your skin. The flavanols can protect against sun damage, improve blood flow to the skin, and increase skin density and hydration. Flavanols protect your skin from UV rays and may also prevent wrinkles. Therefore, if you’re planning a beach vacation, consider enjoying some extra dark chocolate in the prior weeks and months – your skin will thank you later!
Yes, chocolate is good for your brain too! A study conducted on healthy volunteers showed that eating high flavanol cocoa for 5 days improved blood flow to their brains. The researchers also found that drinking hot chocolate helped improve blood flow to parts of the brain where it was needed.
Cocoa may also significantly improve cognitive function in older adults with mild cognitive impairment, and it may also improve verbal fluency and several risk factors for disease. And it’s not over: cocoa contains stimulant substances like caffeine and theobromine, a key reason why it can improve brain function in the short term.
The epicatechin contained in dark chocolate increases the production of nitric oxide in the blood, which supports circulation and reduces the amount of oxygen an athlete uses while engaged in moderately intense exercise. This allows the athlete to maintain the workout intensity for longer, at the same time being a good source of energy.