For many of us, chocolate is the ultimate comfort food – something we reach for at the end of a long, hard day, or when we want to raise a smile. Yet, while it may bring some much-needed bliss when you’re feeling tired or run down, did you know that chocolate may actually be good for you? In fact, chocolate (of the darker, richer variety – think cacao solids of 70% or above, with little added sugar) has long been hailed as a superfood, with endless studies showing that it may have proven medical benefits. In particular, dark chocolate may have benefits for the heart, circulation and blood. It may even help to give the brain a boost! Although, of course, if you eat the whole bar, you may be left feeling sick rather than healthy… As we approach Easter, here are some of the top benefits of eating chocolate:
It Makes You Happy
There’s a reason we reach for chocolate when we need a mood boost – and it isn’t just because it tastes good! Dark chocolate can actually help to make you happy by stimulating the production of endorphins, special chemicals in the brain which releases feelings of pleasure. Dark chocolate is also rich in serotonin, which is a natural antidepressant and mood booster.
Rich in Antioxidants
Good news for all you dark chocolate lovers – raw, unprocessed cocoa beans contain higher amounts of antioxidants than many other superfoods, including blueberries and acai berries. In particular, it is rich in antioxidant compounds which include polyphenols, flavonoids and catechins.
For this reason, eating a few squares of dark chocolate can help to boost your body’s ability to fight free radicals. This can help to protect the body from certain diseases, as well as premature ageing.
What’s more, dark chocolate is also rich in essential minerals such as potassium, zinc and selenium, as well as plant-based iron (100g of dark chocolate contains 67% of your RDA of iron).
Good for the Heart
Thanks to its high content of flavanols (the main type of flavonoid found in dark chocolate), cacao beans may also be good for the heart. Research has shown that flavanols can boost heart health by working to lower blood pressure and improving blood flow. These same flavanols can also make our blood platelets less sticky and improve their ability to clot, reducing the risk of both blood clots and stroke. In fact, some researchers discovered that eating dark chocolate lowered the risk of stroke by 17 per cent in a group of men studied, while another study found that regular consumption of cocoa in elderly men reduced the risk of death from heart disease by 50%. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16505260/
Protects Skin From Sun Damage
Treating yourself to some dark chocolate each night may even help to boost your skincare regime!
This is thanks to those clever flavonols, which are thought to help to protect the skin against sun damage, as well as improving blood flow and increasing hydration. In other words, eating chocolate can help to give you plumped up, glowing skin!
If you’re planning on hitting the beach in the next few months, it’s definitely worth upping your cacao intake…
Can Boost Brain Health
Because of its ability to increase blood flow, scientists also believe that dark chocolate can improve brain function. In fact, cocoa could provide a huge boost in cognitive function for elderly people with brain impairment. This could be because cocoa contains stimulant, including caffeine and theobromine.
What Should I Eat?
Of course, all of these benefits are seen in dark chocolate (chocolate of 70% cacao solids or above – the higher, the better!) rather than your typical, processed chocolate bar.
White chocolate, for example, contains no cocoa solids (only cocoa butter) and is, instead, full of sugar. It’s also worth noting that studies have shown that the proteins in milk chocolate may hinder our body’s ability to absorb the health-boosting antioxidants from cocoa. For this same reason, you should avoid drinking milk with your chocolate!
We’d suggest that, if you fancy some chocolate, embrace it! However, try to stick to eating minimally-processed dark chocolate, ideally with cacao solids of 85% or higher. We’d also recommend only eating small amounts at once – think a few squares (although it is unlikely you’ll be able to eat much anyway!) – due to its high calorie and fat content.