Someone once said to me that chocolate is good for the soul. As a chocolate lover, this notion resonates with me, reminding me of a long-ago friend who shared with me how she had cried all the way home after learning she had a chocolate allergy!
It is not a suprise then, that chocolate is one of the most beloved foods in the world! Delectable and apparently addictive, chocolate comes from the beans of the cacao tree. It’s botanical name is theobroma cacao, a name that reflects our abiding love affair with chocolate that's endured many millennia (theobroma is derived from the Greek word for "food of the gods”).
However, for many years, chocolate has been written off as a junk food, but research has proven that otherwise. Here are a few scientifically proven health benefits of consuming heavenly, dark chocolate!
A recent study found that dark chocolate helps restore flexibility to arteries while also preventing white blood cells from sticking to the walls of blood vessels, both common causes of artery clogging.
Dark chocolate is jammed with beneficial minerals such as magnesium, potassium, zinc and selenium, and a 100g bar of dark (70% cocoa solids or above) chocolate provides 67% of the RDA of iron. Furthermore, the antioxidant capacity of dark chocolate, or more specifically the cacao bean, is un-matched, outshining superfoods like acai and pomegranate!
Consumption of cocoa has been shown to reduce levels of “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and raise levels of “good” cholesterol (HDL), potentially lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Weight loss wonder
Yes, dark chocolate can actually help you lose weight! One study indicates that a small square of high-quality dark chocolate melted on the tongue 20 minutes before a meal triggers the body’s state of feeling full, thus cutting the amount of food subsequently consumed. What’s more, a bite of post-meal chocolate is believed to work in the same way, decreasing chance of between meal snacking.
It sounds a little crazy, but cocoa has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity. This doesn’t mean you can indulge in a slice of chocolate cake. Rather, a moderate partaking of dark chocolate, might help to delay or prevent the onset of diabetes.
Researchers have found that drinking cocoa rich in flavanols actually boosts blood flow to key parts of the brain for 2 to 3 hours, which could improve performance and alertness in the short term. These same flavanols are also thought to significantly improve cognitive function in elderly people with mental impairment.
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 cortisol (a stress hormone) levels were significantly reduced and the metabolic effects of stress were partially mitigated.
Makes you happier!
It is no accident that chocolate and Valentine’s day are inextricably linked! Chocolate contains phenylethylamine (PEA), which is the same chemical that your brain creates when you feel like you’re falling in love. So, when you eat a square or two of dark chocolate, its PEA content encourages your brain to release feel-good endorphins, giving your mood a much needed lift!
Not all chocolate is created equal
Since dark chocolate is higher in flavonoids, it offers the greatest health benefits. Most experts agree that the recommended "dose" of dark chocolate is approximately 30g to 60g a day (that's approximately 1 to 2 ounces).
In order to provide the most healthful choices of chocolate products, here are some things to look out for when selecting dark chocolate:
For the biggest flavonoid bang for your buck, choose high-quality dark chocolate, the darker, the better. Always opt for 70% or darker! Unsweetened dark cocoa powder is naturally high in antioxidants.
Quality of ingredients is key. Make sure the ingredients include cocoa mass (or cocoa liquor), cocoa butter, cane sugar (in small amounts) and natural vanillla.
Read the ingredients labels to make sure it is dairy and soy free, and avoid additives, artificial sweeteners and vegetable or hydrogenated oils. Remember too, the fewer ingredients listed, the better!
In moderation and in the right form, dark chocolate is a true super food! Fortunately, it's also one of the most delicious, so enjoy it in good health!