Why You Should Eat Chocolate
Superfoods don’t just come from your supermarket’s produce aisle. In fact those chocolate candy bars next to the gummy bears now qualify. 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.
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.
If you’re wondering how you can add dark chocolate to your diet plan without putting on pounds, the good news is that it should be easier than you expect.
Researchers from the University of Copenhagen found that dark chocolate is far more filling, offering more of a feeling of satiety than its lighter-colored sibling. That is, dark chocolate lessens cravings for sweet, salty, and fatty foods. So if indulging in a bit of healthy dark chocolate should not only make it easy for you to stick to the small portion recommended for optimal health, but it should make it easier for you to stick to your diet in general. Jackpot!
How could a food that’s long been touted as a cavity-causer actually have teeth-protecting properties? It turns out that theobromine, an organic molecule that occurs naturally in cocoa, can help strengthen tooth enamel, according to research from Tulane University.
In fact, it takes 142 times less cocao extract to have about twice the protective benefits of fluoride, according to the American Dental Association. Unfortunately, theobromine isn’t too beneficial in chocolate bars, where the sugar and milk counteract the dental benefits.
It Contains Flavonoids
Flavowhats? Flavonoids are a type of phytochemical, or plant chemical, that are found naturally in chocolate. Due to their unique chemical structures, flavonoids can exert antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and cell-protective effects, says Giana Angelo, Ph.D., a research associate who specializes in micronutrient research at the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University. Consuming foods rich in flavonoids has also been associated with a reduced risk of heart disease.
To reap the benefits, stick to dark chocolate. The average commercial dark chocolate contains about 60 percent cocao and has been found to contain 536 milligrams of flavonoids per 1.4-ounce serving. Research has shown that as few as 80 milligrams of flavonoids a day can lower blood pressure.
It Can Boost Your Workout
Skip the expensive sports drinks and protein shakes. Research shows chocolate milk is just as effective a recovery aid.
A study published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism compared the effects of a recovery drink and chocolate milk on endurance athletes’ ability to recover after a series of bike sprints followed by an endurance ride the next day. They found that chocolate milk was just as effective at relieving muscle soreness after the sprints, and preparing the athletes to perform in the endurance test the next day. Better yet, everyone preferred the taste of chocolate milk.
That’s right… We’ve just given you 5 amazing reasons to go indulge in your favorite chocolatey treat. Enjoy!