Superfoods aren’t only found in the produce aisle at your grocery store, they’re now located in the candy aisle, in form of chocolate – dark chocolate, to be more precise. Study after study proves that rich and delicious dark chocolate is good for more than just curing a sweet-tooth.
It’s secret ingredient is cacao, which also the source of this treat’s distinct taste. Loaded with healthy polyphenols and flavonoids, this little bean really packs a punch!
By itself, cacao is bitter, chalky, nasty stuff, which is why we add things like sugar, butter and milk to sweeten it up. But on top of adding calories, these added ingredients actually dilute the health benefits of cacao – so snack smart! Stick to healthy chocolate containing at least 70 percent cacao (or cocoa, which is cacao in its roasted, ground form).
As long as the content is that high, you can reap the benefits from eating only small amounts. Because of its high fat and sugar content, limit yourself to 7 ounces, or about four dark chocolate bars, a week. — Mary Engler, Ph.D., professor of physiological nursing at the University of California at San Francisco
Sweet! (Literally, lol!)
Though studies are still ongoing, these are 10 of the currently proven reasons why eating (dark) chocolate is good for you:
1. Cardiovascular Benefit
The latest research backs up claims that chocolate has cardiovascular benefits. In a Swedish study that took place over a 9-year period, of more than 31,000 women, those who ate one or two servings of dark chocolate each week cut their risk for heart failure by as much as a third.
Another big, long-term study in Germany found that a square of dark chocolate a day lowered blood pressure and reduced risk of heart attack and stroke by 39 percent. Most of the credit goes to flavonoids, antioxidant compounds that increase the flexibility of veins and arteries.
But those benefits also come with generous portions of sugar, milk, and butter, so munching on chocolate is NO EXCUSE to skip your workout. Surprisingly, chocolate and exercise compliment each other perfectly. In another recent study, out of Australia this time, researchers found that eating dark chocolate reduced the blood pressure-raising effects of exercise on overweight individuals. So go ahead and reward yourself! A chocolate bar has five times the flavonoids of an apple, after all!!
2. Weight Loss
Adding dark chocolate to your diet plan without putting on the pounds is easier than you expect. Research conducted at the University of Copenhagen showed that dark chocolate is far more filling than its milky counterpart. That is, it lessens cravings for sweet, salty, and fatty foods, making it easy for you to stick to the recommended small portion, and easier for you to stick to your diet in general.
3. Diabetes Prevention
Chocolate fights diabetes? Yep!! In a small Italian study, participants who ate a candy bar’s worth of dark chocolate once a day for 15 days saw their potential for insulin resistance drop by nearly half.
“Flavonoids increase nitric oxide production, and that helps control insulin sensitivity.” — Claudio Ferri, M.D., professor and lead researcher at the University of L’Aquila in Italy
4. Better Mood
A little chocolate snack seems like the perfect pick-me-up, and that’s because it is! It’s not just the delicious taste that seems to enhance mood, but cocoa’s exceptional concentration of polyphenols. A growing number of studies are confirming that for this reason cocoa consumption lifts mood and mental function.
For example, a study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology supports the link between improved mood and the intake of cocoa. Through a randomized controlled trial, researchers evaluated the consumption of chocolate and found it had positive effects on “feel good” brain receptors due to the content of natural chemical compounds in the cocoa.
5. Reduced Stress
UC San Diego researchers recently confirmed emotional eating might not be such a bad thing. You know what kind of havoc cortisol-producing stress can wreak on your body. Swiss scientists (who else?) found that when very anxious people ate an ounce and a half of dark chocolate every day for two weeks, their stress hormone levels were significantly reduced, and the metabolic effects of stress were significantly reduced. After a breakup, break out a dark chocolate bar rather than a pint of ice cream.
6. Higher Intelligence
A University of Nottingham researcher found that drinking cocoa rich in flavanols boosts blood flow to key parts of the brain for up to 3 hours, temporarily improving performance and alertness.
Other researchers from Oxford University and Norway looked at dark chocolate’s long-term effects on the brain by studying the diets of more than 2,000 people over age 70. They found that those who consumed flavanol-rich chocolate scored significantly higher on cognitive tests than those who didn’t.
So, the next time you’re under pressure on a work project, don’t feel so guilty about munching a handful of dark chocolate chips. Not only will it help your body ward off the effects of stress, but it’ll boost your brain power when you really need it!
7. Sun Protection
London researchers recently tested the sun-protection of chocolate’s flavanols, and found that after 3 months eating dark chocolate, their participants’ skin took twice as long to start burning tan those who ate milk chocolate.
8. Happier Babies
The benefits of chocolate can be passed down to your children – literally! A Finnish study on the effects of chocolate on pregnant women found that mothers-to-be who ate dark chocolate daily during their pregnancy were better able to handle stress, and had babies who were happier and smiled more than those of women who didn’t have any.
9. Cough Relief
One study found that dark chocolate quieted coughs almost as well as codeine (but without the sleepy side effects), thanks to the theobromine it contains. This alkaloid, responsible for chocolate’s “feel good” effect, may suppress activity in a part of the brain called the vagus nerve.
10. Diarrhea Relief
Both South American and European cultures have a history that dates back to the 16th century of treating diarrhea with cocoa, and modern-day science has shown they were onto something.
Scientists at the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute found that cocoa flavonoids actually bind to a protein that regulates fluid secretion in the small intestine, potentially stopping diarrhea in its tracks.
So, the next time you’re craving something sweet, DON’T reach for a full-sized candy bar! All chocolates are NOT created equal! Most chocolatiers sacrifice the health benefits for the sake of flavor, in the form of high calories, saturated fat, and sugar. Instead, look for bite-sized chocolate treats made from at least 70 percent cacao to satisfy your taste buds. There are even some brands out there that are infused with green tea extract, amino acids, B vitamins, minerals, for even MORE health benefits.
To learn more about the health benefits of chocolate, or where you can find those which have added nutrients infused, please contact me here or through my Facebook page, and I’ll get back to you right away!