It’s no secret that chocolate is good for the soul, and you have probably heard that it can be heart-healthy, too. However, there are many proven health benefits of indulging in this sweet treat. So grab yourself a morsel or two of your favorite bittersweet bar, and read on!
Chocolate Is Good for Your Heart
We’ll start with chocolate’s benefits to your heart health, just in case you hadn’t heard, or if you need a refresher. Chocolate contains flavanols, which are organically occurring chemicals that can help lower blood pressure. One telling study examined an isolated Indian tribe from the Caribbean. The Kuna Indians’ traditional diet includes five or more cups of drinking cocoa each day, and their urinary levels of flavanols were correspondingly high. Researchers found that these people had a markedly low rate of hypertension, despite having much greater dietary salt intake than most Western cultures. Not only that, but the incidence of death from heart disease, diabetes, and cancer were surprisingly low when compared to urban, Western populations.
This is far from the only study linking increased chocolate consumption with lowered risk of heart disease, however. And it appears that the amount of chocolate needed to ward off cardiovascular problems is small — just six ounces, or about two small squares of an average chocolate bar.
Chocolate Boosts Brain Flow
It might be a bit of a stretch to say that chocolate makes you smarter, but flavanols do improve blood flow. The brain, in particular, seems to receive a greater than average supply of blood after the consumption of chocolate. This may make you more alert and better able to perform certain cognitive tasks.
Blood flow to the retina is another benefit of chocolate. Researchers at the University of Reading in Britain studied the effects of flavanols on both vision and brain power, and found that dark chocolate helped study participants see better, particularly in low-contrast environments. Participants also performed better when their brain function was tested.
Chocolate may also give low-dose aspirin a run for its money when it comes to blood thinning and anti-clotting properties. This, in turn, can result in decreased risk of ischemic stroke and other forms of cardiovascular disease.
Chocolate Can Be a Cough Suppressant
Chocolate also contains a compound called theobromine. Similar in its stimulating properties to caffeine and also found in tea, theobromine is associated with an uptick in energy as well as improved circulation and respiration. It opens up pathways to the lungs, which can lessen asthma symptoms and put a stop to chronic coughing. Additionally, theobromine reduces the activity level of the vagus nerve, which is responsible for nagging coughs.
So the next time you get a cold, have a few squares of dark chocolate after your bowl of chicken soup.
Chocolate Could Help You Lose Weight
The research in this area is still pretty skimpy, but it seems that consuming foods rich in theobromine could actually help you lose weight. There are two factors at play here. One is that theobromine has been shown to work as an appetite suppressant; the other is its stimulant properties.
Dark chocolate is rich in fiber, which can help people feel more satiated faster. A study performed at the University of Copenhagen also found that consuming it can reduce cravings for other sweet foods, salty snacks, and foods high in fat.
Lastly, eating moderate amounts of bittersweet chocolate could have an impact on body mass index, or BMI. Research published in the Archives of Internal Medicine looked at 1000 people in California who reported exercising, on average, 3.6 times per week. They also ate chocolate several times a week. In comparison with similar individuals who did not consume chocolate, the study participants had lower BMIs. The researchers added that these findings could not be explained by other dietary factors, such as eating fewer calories overall or having a diet lower in saturated fat.
Of course, gobbling down chocolate bars or guzzling hot cocoa isn’t going to make the pounds melt away. However, including a moderate amount of dark chocolate to an otherwise healthy diet likely won’t hurt, and could help with your weight loss efforts.
Chocolate Could Protect Against Diabetes
Several small studies have looked at the relationship between chocolate consumption and blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol. Findings show that chocolate rich in polyphenols and flavanol, such as semi-sweet bars, can lower insulin resistance and blood pressure, lower overall cholesterol, and increase the so-called “good” cholesterol, HDL.
And there’s good news for people who have already been diagnosed with diabetes: chocolate isn’t off the table. You can continue to eat it, in moderate amounts, and it may in fact be a better choice than other sugary desserts.
Before you rush out to get some chocolate in the name of your health, remember that most of these benefits are correlated only with dark or bittersweet chocolate that contain 35% cocoa solids or more. Choosing chocolate in the 50-75% is your best bet for reaping the benefits. And chocolate still contains sugar, carbohydrates, and fat, so don’t go overboard.
The research into chocolate’s beneficial properties is ongoing, but for now, you’ve got a perfectly good excuse to indulge in a few squares of dark chocolate each day.