Study after study proves that dark chocolate—sweet, rich, and delicious—is good for more than curing a broken heart.
The secret behind its powerful punch is cacao, also the source of the sweet’s distinct taste. Packed with healthy chemicals like flavonoids and theobromine, this little bean is a disease-killing bullet. The only problem? Cacao on its own is bitter, chalky, nasty stuff.
Enter milk, sugar, and butter—good for your taste buds, not always good for your health. Besides adding calories, these can dilute the benefits of cacao. So snack smart: Stick to healthy chocolate with at least 70 percent cacao (or cocoa, which is cacao in its roasted, ground form). As long as the content is that high, says Mary Engler, Ph.D., a professor of physiological nursing at the University of California at San Francisco, you can reap the benefits from eating only small amounts. Because of its high fat and sugar content, limit yourself to 7 ounces, or about four dark chocolate bars, a week.
6 health benefits of chocolate:
-A HEALTHIER HEART
The latest research backs up claims that chocolate has cardiovascular benefits: In a 9-year Swedish study of more than 31,000 women, those who ate one or two servings of dark chocolate each week cut their risk for heart failure by as much as a third.
Wish that was a serving each day? Another big, long-term study in Germany this year found that about a square of dark chocolate a day lowered blood pressure and reduced risk of heart attack and stroke by 39 percent. Most of the credit goes to flavonoids, antioxidant compounds that increase the flexibility of veins and arteries.
But since those antioxidants come with a generous portion of sugar, milk, and butter, chowing down on chocolate isn’t an excuse to skip your workout. Chocolate and exercise actually work surprisingly well together: Another recent study, out of Australia this time, showed that eating chocolate high in healthy antioxidants reduced the blood pressure-raising effects of exercise on overweight individuals. So go ahead and reward yourself. A chocolate bar has five times the flavonoids of an apple, after all.
Next time you’re under pressure on a work project, don’t feel so guilty about grabbing a dark chocolate bar from the vending machine. Not only will it help your body ward off the effects of stress, but it’ll boost your brain power when you really need it.
A University of Nottingham researcher found that drinking cocoa rich in flavanols boosts blood flow to key parts of the brain for 2 to 3 hours, which could improve performance and alertness in the short term.
Other researchers from Oxford University and Norway looked at chocolate’s long-term effects on the brain by studying the diets of more than 2,000 people over age 70. They found that those who consumed flavanol-rich chocolate, wine, or tea scored significantly higher on cognitive tests than those who didn’t.
Women who ate chocolate daily during their pregnancy reported that they were better able to handle stress than mothers-to-be who abstained. Also, a Finnish study found their babies were happier and smiled more. Hmm, so your options are popping a piece of premium chocolate or sticking a pacifier in your screaming baby’s mouth?
UC San Diego researchers recently confirmed what your fat pants could have told them back in college: When times get tough, people tend to dip into the chocolate stash more often than they might otherwise.
And as it turns out, that kind of emotional eating might not be such a bad thing. You know what kind of havoc stress and its sneaky sidekick cortisol can wreak on your body. Swiss scientists (who else?) found that when very anxious people ate an ounce and a half of dark chocolate every day for two weeks, their stress hormone levels were significantly reduced and the metabolic effects of stress were partially mitigated. After a breakup, break out a dark chocolate bar rather than a pint of ice cream.
One of my favorite effects of chocolate consumption is a reduction in appetite. One study quantified this by giving participants a 100 g serving of either milk or dark chocolate two hours before being served an all-you-can-eat lunch.Ingestion of dark chocolate was correlated with a 17% lower calorie intake at the following meal, compared to the milk chocolate group. (I’d imagine that it’s because the casein in milk binds to the polyphenols in chocolate, making them unavailable to your body.) The new Bulletproof Chocolate Bars are enriched with another appetite reducer, XCT Oil for a double impact.
-CHOCOLATE IS A PREBIOTIC
While many studies assume that it is the cacao polyphenols acting directly to modulate biomarkers, it is most likely the case that at least some of the effect is indirect, and works through interaction with our gut microbiome. Research suggests that low molecular weight cocoa flavanols such as epicatechin and catechin can be absorbed directly into blood circulation, (unless you mix them with milk) but this is not so for the larger polyphenols. In this case, microflora in the colon work to break down high molecular weight polyphenols, so that the smaller secondary metabolites may circulate throughout the body.
Source: Healthy Food Guide 24h