Health Effects of Dark Chocolate
Very few of us need a compelling reason to make ourselves eat chocolate. The taste and the momentary mood lift are enough to make it a treat that doesn’t need a hard sell. But if you aren’t eating it consistently, you could be missing out on some of the most amazing health benefits of dark chocolate you never knew about, writes Will Clower, PhD, author of the new book Eat Chocolate, Lose Weight. “Given the fact that healthy cultures eat chocolate all the time and research has yet to show anything but confirmatory evidence about the health effects of high-cocoa chocolate,” he says, “it seems logical that you should eat chocolate every day, like a delicious vitamin.”
So what are those great benefits? Aside from chocolate’s reputation as an aphrodisiac and a momentary mood-booster, here are seven legitimate reasons you should be eating it every day.
1. Good for the brain
Dark chocolate increases blood flow to the brain as well as to the heart, so it can help improve cognitive function. Dark chocolate also helps reduce your risk of stroke. Dark chocolate also contains several chemical compounds that have a positive effect on your mood and cognitive health. Chocolate contains phenylethylamine (PEA), the same chemical your brain creates when you feel like you’re falling in love. PEA encourages your brain to release endorphins, so eating dark chocolate will make you feel happier. Dark chocolate also contains caffeine, a mild stimulant. However, dark chocolate contains much less caffeine than coffee. A 1.5 ounce bar of dark chocolate contains 27 mg of caffeine, compared to the 200 mg found in an eight ounce cup of coffee.
2. Gives healthier skin
ating antioxidant-rich chocolate leads to skin that’s smoother, less dried out, and more resistant to sunburn, studies have shown. One, in the European Journal of Nutrition, found that consistently eating cocoa for 12 weeks reduced moisture loss in skin by 25 percent–the best news ever for dry-skin sufferers. Another benefit? Fewer sunburns. British researchers gave two groups of women either dark or milk chocolate for 12 weeks, and at the end of the study, those in the dark chocolate group had doubled their protection against UV rays, while the other group saw no benefit. Basically, it took UV rays that were twice as strong to cause burns in the dark chocolate group by the study’s end. Cocoa boosts blood circulation to the fine capillaries in the top layer of skin, vessels that are better equipped to draw oxygen and nutrients that protect skin against dehydration and burns.
3. Good for the heart
Chocolate is often vilified because it contains cocoa butter, which is high in saturated fat. But it turns out that like other forms of saturated fat, such as coconut oil, cocoa butter could actually be good for you. One-third of the fat in cocoa butter is stearic acid, which your liver converts to a healthy monounsaturated fat called oleic acid. Oleic Acid actually lowers levels of bad (LDL) cholesterol and boosts levels of good (HDL). Also, the multiple anti-inflammatory compounds in cocoa help fight chronic vascular inflammation, improve flexibility in blood vessels thereby reducing your blood pressure, and keep platelets from sticking together and clogging up your artery walls–all things that can contribute to heart disease.
4. Full of Antioxidants
Dark chocolate is loaded with antioxidants. Antioxidants help free your body of free radicals, which cause oxidative damage to cells. Free radicals are implicated in the aging process and may be a cause of cancer, so eating antioxidant rich foods like dark chocolate can protect you from many types of cancer and slow the signs of ageing. Dark chocolate is loaded with organic compounds that are biologically active and function as antioxidants. These include polyphenols, flavanols, catechins, among others. One study showed that cocoa and dark chocolate contained more antioxidant activity, polyphenols and flavanols than other fruits they tested, which included blueberries and Acai berries.
5. Makes Teeth Strong because of Theobromine
Dark chocolate contains theobromine, which has been shown to harden tooth enamel. That means that dark chocolate, unlike most other sweets, lowers your risk of getting cavities if you practice proper dental hygiene. Theobromine is also a mild stimulant, though not as strong as caffeine. It can, however, help to suppress coughs.
6. Lessen Anxiety
Stress prompts your body to produce cortisol, which has an added downside of triggering the accumulation of the abdominal, or visceral, fat that builds up around your organs and can contribute to depression, along with heart disease and stroke. Yet a 2009 study found that people who ate 40 grams (about an ounce) of chocolate every day for two weeks saw decreases in levels of cortisol in their systems compared to its levels at the start of the study. Another study a year later showed that, over the course of 30 days, people who ate cocoa daily had 10 percent lower levels of anxiety and considered themselves 10 percent calmer than they had been at the start of the study.
7. Sun Protection
London researchers recently tested chocolate flavanols’ sun-protecting prowess. After 3 months eating chocolate with high levels of flavanols, their study subjects’ skin took twice as long to develop that reddening effect that indicates the beginning of a burn. Subjects who ate conventional low-flavanol chocolate didn’t get the same sun protection. Watch for brands boasting high levels of the healthy compounds.
8. May help with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
In a small study in England, 1 1/2 ounces of 85% cocoa dark chocolate was given to a group of adults with chronic fatigue syndrome every day for eight weeks. In the study, which has been submitted for publication, the participants reported feeling less fatigued after eating the chocolate. Surprisingly, no weight gain was reported in the chocolate-eating group, according to researcher Steve Atkin, PhD. How might it work? The researchers believe that chocolate enhances the action of neurotransmitters, like serotonin, which help regulate mood and sleep. More research needs to be done to confirm a benefit in this area.
9. Cough Relief
One study found that chocolate quieted coughs almost as well as codeine, thanks to the theobromine it contains. This chemical, responsible for chocolate’s feel-good effect, may suppress activity in a part of the brain called the vagus nerve. Maria Belvisi, a professor of respiratory pharmacology at the National Heart and Lung Institute in London, says, “It had none of the negative side effects.” Codeine makes most people feel sleepy and dull—and doesn’t taste anything like fine chocolate.
10. Diarrhea Relief
Both South American and European cultures have a history that dates back to the 16th century of treating diarrhea with cocoa. Modern-day science has shown they were onto something. Scientists at the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute found that cocoa flavonoids bind to a protein that regulates fluid secretion in the small intestine, potentially stopping the trots in their tracks.
11. Happier Kids
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?