10 Ways Chocolate Can Improve Your HealthArticle posted in: Diet & Nutrition
There are lots of reasons to love chocolate. And, if you’re like most “chocoholics,” you probably don’t need any more justification to indulge. But in case you were wondering if there’s anything sweet about chocolate besides its taste, the answer is yes. Research suggests that chocolate―the dark kind, in particular―may be chockfull of all kinds of physical, mental and emotional health benefits. We’ve included 10 of those fabulous benefits below.
But before you go chowing down on the nearest chocolate bar, keep this in mind: not all chocolates are created equal. Dark chocolates have a higher concentration of body-boosting antioxidants than milk chocolate, and typically contain fewer added sugars and unhealthy fats. So a good rule of thumb is: the darker, the better. Opt for less-processed options containing a minimum of 65 percent cacao, and don’t overindulge. The jury is still out on the exact amount of dark chocolate needed to reap the benefits, but we all know what too much indulging can lead to. Shoot for a maximum of one to two ounces a day. On the Nutrisystem program? You can still have your chocolate and eat it, too! Just limit yourself to a maximum of 2 dark chocolate minis (or about ½ ounce) a day, and be sure to count these as three Limited Extras.
It may lower cholesterol
Cocoa powder is rich in polyphenols, a large class of chemical compounds also found in fruits, veggies, tea and plants. A study in the Journal of Nutrition suggests that the polyphenolic substances in cocoa powder may help reduce LDL, otherwise known as the “bad cholesterol.” These substances may also suppress oxidized LDL―particularly good news since oxidized LDL can clog blood vessels and cause all kinds of health complications. Just as sweet? The study also suggests that these compounds can cause an increase in the “good cholesterol,” HDL, which may be protective against heart disease. Although exciting, many of the studies on chocolate and cholesterol are short-term, so more long-term studies are needed.
It could help keep you sharp
Feeling forgetful? Grab a piece of chocolate! The cocoa in chocolate is packed with flavanols, naturally occurring compounds also found in some fruits, tea and red wine, which have antioxidant properties and may be protective against cognitive decline. Research in the American Heart Association’s Hypertension journal demonstrated that elderly people who drank a lot of powdered cocoa drinks had significantly higher overall cognitive scores than those drinking lower levels.
It could keep you heart-healthy
Perhaps one of the sweetest things about chocolate is its potential role in heart disease prevention. In an analysis of seven studies exploring the relationship between chocolate and cardiovascular health that involved more than 114,000 people from the United States, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, and Sweden, British researchers discovered that those who ate more chocolate lowered their risk for heart disease significantly. In fact, people who ate the most chocolate weekly had a 37 percent lower risk of any heart disease than those who ate the least amounts of dark chocolate. Researchers contend that the heart-healthy benefits of chocolate may be due to flavonoids, antioxidant compounds that increase the elasticity of veins and arteries.
It may protect against stroke
Although more studies are needed on the optimal quantities and types of chcolate, existing research suggests that eating chocolate might help reduce stroke risk. In a study by Swedish researchers, women who ate about two candy bars per week had a 20 percent lower stroke risk. This study echoes findings from earlier research, which found that people who ate more chocolate were 30 percent less likely to have a stroke.
Dark chocolate can calm cravings
Whether you’re craving something sweet, fatty or savory, we’ve got your solution―dark chocolate! A 2011 study published in the Nutrition and Diabetes journal found that dark chocolate promotes feelings of fullness, reduces a variety of food cravings, and can even lower overall energy intake compared with milk chocolate.
It makes you happy
You already know you’re happy when chocolate’s involved, but now there’s science to back you up! According to a study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, those who drank one polyphenol-rich chocolate drink daily (about 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate) reported feeling calmer and more content than those who did not. Researchers contend that the compounds in cocoa can stimulate activity in the brain regions associated with pleasure and reward, and boost brain serotonin, a hormone believed to have antidepressant effects.
It may lower blood pressure
We already know that the flavanols found in cocoa have antioxidant properties. As it turns out, these powerful compounds may also help lower blood pressure, improve blood flow to the brain and heart, and make blood platelets less sticky and able to clot. A Harvard study that analyzed 24 chocolate studies involving 1,106 people found that dark chocolate containing at least 50-70 percent cocoa lowered blood pressure in all participants, but most markedly in those with hypertension.
It might help you see
The flavanols in dark chocolate may be to thank for yet another health benefit. Researchers from the University of Reading in England tested the eyesight of 30 healthy adults after they ate white and dark chocolates and found that participants scored better on vision tests after consuming the dark chocolate. Given that dark chocolate has a much higher flavanol content, the researchers concluded that these compounds may be responsible for improving blood flow to the retina.
It might help you live longer
Not only might chocolate add some joy to your life, it might also help extend it! In a Harvard University study, researchers compared men who ate chocolate with those who didn’t, and found that the chocolate-eaters lived one year longer. More research is needed to help determine the exact role chocolate plays in this capacity.
Um, hello…It’s delicious!
You don’t need any scientific evidence to confirm this: melt it, freeze it, sprinkle it, blend it…. chocolate is tasty every way you try it! Just make sure to enjoy it in moderation, and always opt for dark over milk chocolate to reap the sweetest benefits!