Yesterday was World Chocolate Day. Did you celebrate?
There are many reasons to love chocolate. Did you know there are legitimate health reasons to eat more?
OK, full disclosure right from the start: we’re talking dark chocolate here. The good stuff. You can find it sprinkled with salt or with dried fruit or ginger mixed in for a little variety or you can get it straight up.
Stay away from the milk laden varieties loaded with sugar. This only adds to your waistline and does not provide the health benefits noted below. Sorry folks.
So here they are, 7 study backed reasons to eat a little dark chocolate every day:
It is nutrient dense.
Quality dark chocolate with a high cocoa content contains such health gems as soluble fiber, iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, potassium, phosphorous, zinc and selenium.
Bonus benefits include a little bit of caffeine and theobromine – stimulants that may help you get through an afternoon slump. Pam, we’re talking to you.
In addition to being nutrient dense, it is also calorie dense so remember – savor – don’t eat the whole bar thinking more is better for you.
It is a Super Fruit?
Dark chocolate contains polyphenols, flavanols and catechins – biologically active organic compounds that are linked to potential health benefits.
In this study, cocoa and dark chocolate ranked higher than blueberries and acai berries in antioxidant activity, polyphenols and flavanols and were deemed a “super fruit”.
It may lower your blood pressure.
As mentioned above, dark chocolate is rich in flavanols and phenols which turns out can stimulate the lining of your arteries to produce nitric oxide (NO).
The nitric oxide relaxes your arteries, dilating them and improving blood pressure. This study, exploring the effects of low doses of dark chocolate on blood pressure, concluded small amounts did “efficiently reduced blood pressure and improved formation of vasodilative nitric oxide.”
It’s was a small study and more research should be done but we’ll take it.
It messes with your cholesterol – in a good way.
In this controlled study, ingesting cocoa powder significantly decreased oxidized LDL cholesterol in participants while increasing HDL and lowering total LDL for those with high cholesterol.
Oxidized LDL particles become reactive and cause damage to tissues like the lining of your arteries so that decreased oxidized LDL part is particularly beneficial.
It reduces the risk for heart disease.
The protection against oxidation of LDL mentioned above means in the long term, less cholesterol will stick to the inside of your arteries and lower your risk of heart disease.
In this study of elderly men, intake of cocoa was concluded to be “inversely associated with blood pressure and 15-year cardiovascular and all-cause mortality.”
This study came to a similar conclusion: “consumption of chocolate is inversely related with prevalent CHD (chronic heart disease) in a general United States population.”
These were observational studies so it is not conclusive chocolate reduced the risk . . . but it didn’t conclude consumption was harmful so, again, we’ll take it.
It may protect your skin from the sun.
Every hear of MED? It is the minimal erythemal dose – the minimum amount of UVB rates required to cause skin redness 24 hours after exposure. It’s the threshold at which you get a sunburn.
In this small study, the participants MED more than doubled after consuming dark chocolate for 12 weeks. This study also found dark chocolate has photoprotective effects.
So, if you are going away on a tropical vacation, consider consuming dark chocolate in the weeks before you leave. You may burn less as a result.
It makes you smart.
We’ve discussed how all the flavanols in dark chocolate effect your arteries. This increased blood flow is good for your brain too. In this study, ingesting 150 mg of cocoa flavanols for 5 days showed an increase in blood flow to the brain.
The CoCoA (Cocoa, Cognition and Aging) study, demonstrated regular consumption of cocoa “might be effective in improving cognitive function in elderly subjects with mild cognitive impairment.” The consumption also demonstrated improvements in blood pressure and insulin resistance.
Again, small studies so more exploration is warranted but we’re willing to take the risk. J
Bottom line: Dark chocolate seems to hold some health benefits making it worth consuming. It is worth repeating: this is not permission to eat it in large amounts. Dark chocolate is very calorie dense and obesity would rule out all these positive effects.
Our suggestion: have a square or two per day and enjoy them without guilt. Set them on your tongue and let them melt to really savor the flavor.
One more thing: make sure you buy quality dark chocolate with a 70% or high cocoa content. The higher the cocoa content, the less the sugar it contains.
Higher cocoa content will also make it taste more bitter but you might be surprised how that sharpness can grow on you.
That strong flavor can be a diet help too. When you are craving something sweet and sugary, try a square of dark chocolate instead and see if the strong flavor knocks out the craving.
Even Olympians use this trick! Check out this video where Gwen Jorgensen shows how she satisfies sweet cravings with a very simple hot chocolate recipe:
Happy World Chocolate Day!