If you’ve ever wanted to eat chocolate every day, you now have an excuse — or eight.
According to scientific studies, dark chocolate — sorry, milk and white chocolate don’t count — is high in antioxidants and nutrients, making it a superfood favourite.
Dark chocolate contains flavonoids, which are plant chemicals that act as antioxidants and may play a role in cancer prevention, heart health, and weight loss, according to a December 2016 article published in the Journal of Nutritional Science. The cacao plant, from which chocolate is derived, also contains a compound called theobromine, which, according to Toby Amidor, RD, a cookbook author and Food Network nutrition expert, can help reduce inflammation and potentially lower blood pressure.
“Cacao is loaded with antioxidants — more than green tea or red wine,” she says. “The darker you go, the more antioxidants you will get, but there must be a balance between eating palatable dark chocolate and reaping the health benefits.”
According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, choosing a bar with 70% cacao or higher is your best bet; bars with lower percentages of cacao have more added sugar and unhealthy fats. Even though quality dark chocolate is preferable to milk chocolate, it is still chocolate, which means it is high in calories and saturated fat. Amidor advises eating no more than 1 ounce of dark chocolate per day to avoid weight gain. Now, let’s take a look at what this treat has to offer.
1 Dark chocolate may aid in the prevention of heart disease and the reduction of the risk of stroke.
One of the most significant advantages that researchers tout is the role that dark chocolate may play in improving heart health. A meta-analysis of eight studies on the relationship between chocolate consumption and cardiovascular disease, published in the journal Heart in July 2015, discovered that people who ate more chocolate per day had a lower risk of both heart disease and stroke.
A number of observational studies have also found that eating dark chocolate on a regular basis may lower the risk of heart disease. For example, one previous study published in the journal Clinical Nutrition discovered that eating dark chocolate more than five times per week reduced the risk of heart disease by 57%.
According to a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers believe the flavonoids in dark chocolate help to maintain heart health. According to a review published in the American Journal of Physiology: Cell Physiology in March 2017, these chemicals help produce nitric oxide, which causes blood vessels to relax and blood pressure to drop.
Because many of these studies are observational, the results may be skewed if people underreport their chocolate consumption. The studies are also limited in that they cannot establish direct cause and effect. More research is needed to determine the exact amount and type of flavonoid-rich chocolate that would help reduce the risk of stroke.
2 The treat may boost your mood, improve your cognition, and prevent memory loss.
No, it’s not your imagination — studies show that eating a lot of dark chocolate can help your brain. According to Joy Dubost, PhD, RD, a nutrition spokesperson and owner of Dubost Food & Nutrition Solutions, chocolate stimulates neural activity in areas of the brain associated with pleasure and reward, which reduces stress and improves mood.
According to a systematic review published in the journal Nutrition Reviews, five of eight studies on chocolate and mood showed improvements in mood and three showed “clear evidence of cognitive enhancement.” Further research presented at the 2018 Experimental Biology meeting discovered that eating 48 grammes (g) of organic chocolate with 70% cacao increased neuroplasticity in the brain, which could improve memory, cognition, and mood.
Improvements in brain health may be attributed to the high levels of flavonoids found in dark chocolate, which research, such as a study published in April 2018 in The FASEB Journal, has found to accumulate in brain regions responsible for learning and memory.
While some research, including a study published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition in May 2017, has suggested that there may be a link between dark chocolate and the brain, larger sample sizes are needed, and more research is needed to investigate the mechanisms involved. Before you go out and stock up on chocolate bars, keep in mind that most studies used much higher amounts of chocolate than the recommended daily dose (1.5 ounces maximum)
3 Dark chocolate may help to lower blood sugar levels and lower the risk of developing diabetes.
Consuming chocolate on a daily basis may not appear to be the best way to prevent diabetes, but studies have shown that eating healthy amounts of dark chocolate rich in cacao can actually improve how the body metabolises glucose. According to an article published in March 2019 by StatPearls, insulin resistance causes high blood glucose (sugar) and is the hallmark of type 2 diabetes.
The flavonoids in dark chocolate were found to reduce oxidative stress, which scientists believe is the primary cause of insulin resistance, according to a study published in the Journal of Community and Hospital Internal Medicine Perspectives in October 2017. Insulin resistance is reduced, and thus the risk of diseases such as diabetes is reduced, by improving your body’s sensitivity to insulin.
Another study, published in the journal Appetite in January 2017, found that participants who rarely consumed chocolate had nearly twice the risk of developing diabetes five years later when compared to participants who consumed dark chocolate at least once per week.
While researchers agree that dark chocolate has numerous health benefits, more research is needed to determine whether there is a cause-and-effect relationship between chocolate consumption and diabetes risk.
4 Chocolate is beneficial to the digestive system and may aid in weight loss.
Eating chocolate every day may seem like the last thing you want to do to lose weight, but research suggests dark chocolate may play a role in appetite control, which could aid in weight loss. Eat Chocolate, Lose Weight is a book written by neuroscientist Will Clower, PhD, that describes how eating a small amount of dark chocolate before or after meals triggers hormones that tell the brain that you’re full. Of course, eating more than the daily recommended amount can negate any potential weight loss.
According to research cited in an article published in the journal Frontiers in Pharmacology, chocolate acts like a prebiotic (not to be confused with probiotic), a type of fibre that promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut, during digestion. According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the more “good” microbes in your system, the better your body is able to absorb nutrients and support a healthy metabolism.
5 It fights free radicals and may help prevent cancer.
There is limited evidence that dark chocolate contains properties that may help protect people from certain types of cancer, but it is growing. According to an article published in the Indian Journal of Clinical Biochemistry in January 2015, antioxidants protect our cells from damage caused by free radicals, which are unstable oxygen molecules thought to be responsible for ageing and disease.
“When there are too many free radicals in your body, they begin to attack your cells, which can lead to low-grade inflammation and some diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s,” Dr. DuBost explains.
Some studies, such as one published in the Journal of the American Society of Hypertension, have found that people who consume a lot of flavonoids or antioxidant-rich chocolate have a lower risk of developing cancer than those who don’t. Two flavonoids in particular, epicatechin and quercetin, are thought to be responsible for the cancer-fighting properties of chocolate.
However, most studies use only animals or cell cultures, and the amount of chocolate required to potentially prevent cancer is much higher than the daily recommended dose for humans, according to a review published in The Netherlands Journal of Medicine.
6 It’s Beneficial to Your Skin (in More Ways Than One)
According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, dark chocolate contains vitamins and minerals that are beneficial to your skin, such as copper, iron, and magnesium, to name a few. Manganese, for example, promotes collagen production, a protein that keeps skin looking young and healthy. Other minerals, such as calcium, aid in the repair and renewal of skin, which is critical given that our bodies can shed up to 40,000 skin cells per day, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Several previous studies have found that the high levels of antioxidants in dark chocolate may protect skin from the sun’s powerful ultraviolet (UV) rays.
Other studies, such as one published in the Nutrition Journal in June 2014, found no significant protective effects of antioxidant-rich chocolate against UV rays, but did find improvements in the elasticity of sun-exposed skin, though the exact mechanism is unknown.
7 Dark chocolate may raise good cholesterol while decreasing bad cholesterol.
Dark chocolate is also promoted as a low-cholesterol food. In a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association in November 2017, a handful of almonds, dark chocolate, and unsweetened cocoa showed a significant reduction in low-density lipoproteins (LDL), also known as “bad” cholesterol, which in high amounts can clog arteries.
According to DuBost, the cocoa butter in dark chocolate may also help raise high-density lipoproteins (HDL), or “good” cholesterol. According to the US Library of Medicine, cocoa butter contains oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat similar to that found in heart-healthy olive oil. However, unlike olive oil, cocoa butter is high in saturated fat (according to the US Department of Agriculture), which can be harmful to the heart in excess, emphasising the importance of portion control.
Not to mention, many of the studies on chocolate and good cholesterol are short-term, so it’s premature to declare chocolate a cholesterol cure-all, according to DuBost.
8 Dark Chocolate Is Healthy — and Delicious!
Aside from all of the other potential benefits, one thing is certain: dark chocolate is high in nutrients. Of course, the darker the chocolate, the better, but according to a study published in the journal Antioxidants & Redox Signaling, any 70% dark chocolate or higher contains antioxidants, fibre, potassium, calcium, copper, and magnesium.
It also has a lot of calories and fat, so keep an eye on your daily intake. Each brand of chocolate is also processed differently; Amidor recommends going organic because it is grown without the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides (look for Rainforest Alliance Certified products) and always checking the ingredient list to ensure you are consuming chocolate with fewer and more natural ingredients.
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