I love chocolate. I keep a stash of dark chocolate in the pantry at all times for after dinner cravings or mid-day pick me ups. In fact, it is rare that a day goes by where I don’t eat at least a small square of chocolate. But is my love of chocolate a bad habit, or is chocolate good for you? I am happy to report that dark chocolate, specifically, is actually quite healthy; there continues to be new evidence for the various health benefits of dark chocolate.
Cacao, which comes from seeds of the tree Theobroma cacao, is the main component of dark chocolate. Cacao is full of compounds called polyphenols (particularly flavanols), which have a variety of health benefits. Polyphenols are potent antioxidants, which help to fight diseases, particularly of the brain and heart. And dark chocolate has two to three times more of these compounds and a higher antioxidant activity than green tea, which is well known for its health benefits. Dark chocolate might be an especially effective form of polyphenols because of the way bacteria in our gut interact with the dark chocolate that we ingest.
The list of reasons why chocolate is good for you is seemingly endless. Here are just a few of the impressive health benefits of dark chocolate:
Improve insulin functioning. Eating dark chocolate can help with blood sugar regulation. It leads to improved insulin resistance, and can even effect β-cell functioning (the cells that produce insulin).[1,2] In fact, people who eat one ounce of chocolate two to six times per week are 34% less likely to be diagnosed with diabetes.
Protect against the effects of stress. Recent research shows that intake of dark chocolate can help to protect against the body’s negative reaction to stress. It seems that flavanols in chocolate can reduce the stress response by affecting hormone activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis in the brain.
Fight dementia and improve cognitive performance. Dark chocolate can help to improve cognitive function in both young and older adults.[5,6] Flavanols in cacao are associated with a decreased risk of dementia and cognitive impairment. This may be because the flavanols can help to increase the number and strength of connections between neurons, which can help to preserve memory and improve cognitive ability. They also increase blood flow, and blood flow to the brain helps improve cognitive performance as well.
Improve cholesterol and triglycerides levels. A systematic review of 42 studies found that chocolate intake is associated with reduced LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels and an increase in HDL cholesterol.
Reduce blood pressure. Flavanols are effective blood pressure reducers, as well. People who eat flavanol-rich cacao products regularly have significantly reduced blood pressure readings.
Lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Eating chocolate can decrease your risk for cardiovascular disease mortality, as dark chocolate can lower blood pressure and cholesterol, has anti-inflammatory capabilities, and effects heart health in numerous other ways.
Fight cancer. Although research has not yet made a direct association between chocolate intake and cancer risk, many compounds found in chocolate have cancer-fighting properties. They protect against oxidative damage, suppress proliferation of cells, and protect from mutation.
Scientists continue to discover new reasons why chocolate is good for our health. It may help improve mood, fight symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome, and more.[8,9] So if you have been limiting your intake of chocolate out of fear that it was an unhealthy indulgence, don’t worry; you can now enjoy a square of dark chocolate after dinner or a few dark chocolate covered nuts for a snack without guilt. Just make sure you choose a high quality dark chocolate with a high cacao content (look for over 70%).
Chelsea Clark is a writer with a passion for science, human biology, and natural health. She holds a bachelor’s degree in molecular and cellular biology with an emphasis in neuroscience from the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, WA. Her research on the relationship between chronic headache pain and daily stress levels has been presented at various regional, national, and international conferences. Chelsea’s interest in natural health has been fueled by her own personal experience with chronic medical issues. Her many profound experiences with natural health practitioners and remedies have motivated Chelsea to contribute to the world of natural health as a researcher and writer for Natural Health Advisory Institute.
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