10 Surprising Health Benefits Of Chocolate

10 Surprising Health Benefits Of Chocolate

As if we needed an excuse to break off another square, chocolate – and we’re talking the dark stuff, here – has a whole host of wellness benefits you may not yet be aware of. Packed with essential minerals, antioxidants and more, it’s a bona fide health food (yes, really). So, in celebration of World Chocolate Day on 7th July, we’ve rounded up the facts you need to know…

1. It Could Aid With Weight Loss

A 2012 study reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine revealed that, of the 1,000 healthy adults surveyed, those who ate chocolate a few times per week or more had lower BMIs than those who rarely indulged in the sweet – this was true even after researchers accounted for participants’ age and gender, as well as how much they exercised.

However, it’s important to note the findings only related to how often people ate chocolate, not the total amount they ate regularly.

As for those looking to lose weight but still get their fix? There’s no reason you can’t enjoy a square of dark chocolate as a daily treat. “If you love milk chocolate, go gradually darker, starting with 55% cocoa before working your way to 90% cocoa,” advises nutritionist Francesca Cappozzo.

2. It Helps You Fight Off Flu

Cacao is packed full of antioxidants, which play a key role in supporting your immune system. In fact, in its pure form, it has double the antioxidants of green tea – while dark chocolate has even more than blueberries. The rule of thumb to remember is that deeper the colour of the plant, the more antioxidants it has, so dark chocolate is the way to go if you’re looking to boost your resistance to colds and flu.

Studies also strongly suggest that the less processed it is, the more antioxidant benefits a chocolate bar will have. So make like the model, nutritionist and wellness guru Danielle Copperman, and try out raw versions – stocked at most health-food stores: “I couldn’t be without raw chocolate,” she told SL.

3. It Can Lower Blood Pressure & Cholesterol

Many studies have shown dark chocolate can improve blood flow and lower blood pressure (although it’s worth remembering the effects are usually very mild). This is due to the high levels of flavonoids in dark chocolate, which can stimulate the lining of the arteries, to produce nitric oxide – this in turn relaxes the arteries, which lowers resistance to blood flow and therefore reduces blood pressure.

The flavonoids in chocolate also appear to lower ‘bad’ cholesterol levels, resulting in a lower risk of heart disease. Several long-term observational studies have shown a drastic improvement – in one study of 470 elderly men over a 15-year period, consumption of cocoa was linked to a 50% less chance of developing heart disease.

4. It’s Great For Boosting Mood & Libido

It’s true what they say, chocolate makes you happy – and not just because it feels good to enjoy the foods you love. Chocolate contains three chemical compounds that each have mood-boosting effects on the brain and, when combined, can give you a pleasurable feeling – and even boost libido. There’s tryptophan, which is used by the brain to make serotonin (aka, the ‘happy hormone’), and phenylethylalanine, which promotes feelings of attraction and excitement (associated with the initial euphoria of falling in love) and also acts as an anti-depressant by combining with dopamine that is naturally present in the brain.

Chocolate also contains theobromine, a weak stimulant that works alongside caffeine to produce the characteristic chocolate ‘high’. Scientists at the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego even discovered chocolate contains substances that produce a cannabis-like effect on the brain (however, you’d have to ingest more than 25lbs in one sitting to feel the same effects).

5. It Helps You Recover Faster From Exercise

Like green leafy vegetables, dark chocolate is high in magnesium – a mineral 75% of UK adults are deficient in. Often referred to as the ‘miracle mineral’, magnesium is responsible for over 300 different chemical reactions in the body, making it one of the most essential nutrients for human health.

Like vitamin D, it helps regulate calcium levels and plays an equally important role in bone health. It’s also vital for maintaining normal muscle and nerve function, and helps to regulate your heart beat, making it vital for those who work out regularly.

6. It Might Stop You Getting Cavities

Chocolate contains a compound called theobromide which, in clinical studies, has proven effective at eliminating the cavity-causing bacteria, streptococcus mutans. Flavanoids – which dark chocolate is high in – have been shown to slow tooth decay, too. However, as we all know, lots of chocolate also contains sugar, which is notoriously bad for tooth health – so brushing and flossing regularly is still a must.

The polyphenols in cocoa beans can also limit the growth of oral bacteria – the cause of bad breath – and, along with anti-inflammatory tannins (which gives dark chocolate its bitter taste and dark colour) can help prevent gum infections.

7. It Can Help Prevent Asthma Attacks

Three components in dark chocolate – caffeine, theobromine and theophylline – can all work together to halt bronchospasms and open constricted bronchial passages. So alongside helping to prevent asthma attacks, this also means dark chocolate can work as a cough suppressant.

However, it’s vital to note that if you’re allergic to chocolate, or common ingredients found in chocolate, eating it can make your asthma worse. Some people with asthma don’t yet know chocolate is a trigger for them, so if you’re experiencing unexplained reactions, ask your GP for an allergy test.

8. And, Surprisingly, Lower Your Risk Of Diabetes

This particular point may sound too surprising to be true, but the cacao in dark chocolate improves your body’s sensitivity to insulin, and therefore helps lower blood sugar levels. As a result, it can lower your risk of type 2 diabetes, along with helping those with the condition manage their blood glucose – a key part of treatment.

As with the reduced risk of tooth decay, eating sugar-free or low-sugar chocolate is the only proven way to reap this benefit – and experts stress that, as chocolate is also high in saturated fat and calories, it should be eaten in moderation as part of a balanced diet.

9. It Could Keep You Safer In The Sun

The bioactive compounds in dark chocolate may also be great for your skin. Studies show that the flavonoids in cocoa can improve blood flow to the skin, increase skin density and hydration, and even protect it from sun damage.

One study of 30 found that the number of UVB rays people’s skin could take before turning red more than doubled after consuming dark chocolate high in flavanols for 12 weeks. The findings were promising, but more research is certainly needed – so don’t scrimp on the SPF just yet.

10. It May Make You Seem Smarter

Dark chocolate can also help your brain work at its best, and researchers have theorised this is due to the stimulant substances it contains, like caffeine and theobromine.

Cocoa has been found to significantly improve cognitive function and verbal fluency in elderly people with mental impairment, while another study of healthy volunteers showed that eating high-flavanol cocoa for five days improved blood flow to the brain.

Feeling tempted yet? Check out some of SL’s favourite chocolate recipes below…

Cherry, Almond & Dark Chocolate Tiffin
Cherry, Almond & Dark Chocolate Tiffin
Chocolate & Almond Banana Bread
Chocolate & Almond Banana Bread
Chocolate & Brazil Nut Brownies
Chocolate & Brazil Nut Brownies
Chocolate Courgette Loaf
Chocolate Courgette Loaf
Coffee, Chocolate & Chia Seed Pudding
Coffee, Chocolate & Chia Seed Pudding
Dark Chocolate & Raspberry Pots
Dark Chocolate & Raspberry Pots
Healthy Chocolate Granola
Healthy Chocolate Granola
Healthy Chocolate Pudding
Healthy Chocolate Pudding
Raw Chocolate & Berry Vegan Cheesecake
Raw Chocolate & Berry Vegan Cheesecake
Tilly Ramsay’s Chocolate Brownies
Tilly Ramsay’s Chocolate Brownies
White Chocolate, Cardamom & Raspberry Tart
White Chocolate, Cardamom & Raspberry Tart
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