Although it sounds too good to be true, eating chocolates can actually be good for you. For years chocolate has been vilified because of high fat content and its consumption has been linked with acne, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. New research now has lauded chocolate for its excellent antioxidant benefits.
Now when we talk about chocolate and its health benefits, we’re talking about dark chocolate and not milk chocolate or white chocolate. The more natural and unprocessed it is, the more health benefits it contains. Following are 11 reasons to indulge without guilt in chocolates.
1. Rich in antioxidants
Dark chocolate is loaded in antioxidants, such as polyphenols, flavanols, and catechins among others. Antioxidants help neutralize free radicals, which cause adverse excessive inflammation and oxidative damage to cells. Free radicals accelerate the ageing process, while oxidative stress and chronic inflammation have been associated with numerous chronic illnesses, including cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
2. Promotes heart health
The flavanols found in dark chocolate don’t just possess antioxidant properties, but heart health benefits as well. Research shows that these plant flavonoids have shown to lower blood pressure, improve blood flow to the brain and heart, and make blood platelets les sticky and clot more effectively.
In addition to flavanols, the fat found in dark chocolate offer heart health benefits as well. Fat in dark chocolate comes from cocoa butter, which is made up of oleic acid, a type of monounsaturated fat that lowers “bad cholesterol and raises “good” cholesterol, as well as stearic and palmitic acids, two forms of saturated fat.
3. Improve memory function
Researchers from the Harvard Medical School suggest that drinking two cups of flavanol-rich hot cocoa every day may keep the brain healthy and prevent memory loss, particularly in people who have compromised blood flow to the brain and white matter damage.
This evidence supports the brain’s capacity to improve blood flow to the brain, which uses 20% of the body’s energy while it accounts for only 2% of its weight. Hence, any improvement in blood flow results in improved cognition.
4. Reduce risk of heart disease
A research published in the British Medical Journal reported that consuming lots of dark chocolate cuts down the risk of heart disease by one-third. The report, which was presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress in Paris, assessed data from seven previous studies on cardiovascular health.
The researchers found out that five studies showed evidence that eating lots of chocolate cuts down the risk of cardiovascular events. Further, those who ate lots of chocolates have a 37% lower risk of having a cardiovascular event and a 29% less incidence of stroke.
5. May help prevent stroke
Researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm followed more than 37,000 men aged 45 to 79 years in a period of 10 years. They found out that men who consumed at least 2.2 ounces of dark chocolate a week had a 17% lower risk of having a stroke in that timespan than those who consumed little or no chocolate.
Another study published in the Molecular Nutrition Food Research indicated that chocolate had anti-clotting effects that were activated within two hours of eating. Specifically, the researchers found out that women who consumed dark chocolate had less platelets that clump together. This process, called platelet aggregation, could block blood vessels and lead to a heart attack or stroke.
In addition, consuming dark chocolate also significantly increases bleeding time six hours after consumption. Bleeding time determines how quickly your blood clots and this usually declines as platelets become sticky.
6. Protection against type 2 diabetes
A study published in the Journal of Nutrition indicated that consuming high amounts of flavonoids, such as those found in dark chocolate, may help protect against type 2 diabetes. The study revealed that women who consumed foods rich in these compounds had lower levels of insulin resistance and higher levels of a protein called adiponectin, which helps regulate glucose levels.
7. Weight control
Researchers from Spain analyzed records of 1,458 teenagers adolescents aged 12 to 17 years from 9 European countries. The record showed what they ate in the previous 24 hours in non-consecutive days, their BMI, body fat measures, waist circumference and activity levels. The research showed that higher consumption of dark chocolate in teenagers was associated with lower levels of total fat and fat around the waist, irrespective of other factors such as exercise.
8. Protection from UV rays
Clinical trials have shown that the flavanols found in dark chocolate helps protect the skin from redness, sunburn and other signs of UV damage. London researchers carried a study on the sun-protecting prowess of flavanols. They found out that participants who consumed dark chocolate with high levels of flavonols in a period of three months took longer to develop that reddening that is indicative of a sunburn. When directly applied on the skin, dark chocolate also has the ability to repair and moisten skin that were exposed to the sun.
9. Mood lifter
Dark chocolate contains high levels of Tryptophan, an amino acid that is a precursor of serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that influences mood, and one of the possible causes of anxiety is low serotonin. Another positive, mood-elevating ingredient fond in dark chocolate is Theobromine. Theobromine has stimulant properties, similar to caffeine but ten times weaker.
10. Cough remedy
Researchers from the UK investigated the effects of theobromine, which was extracted from cacao, in 300 patients with chronic cough in 13 hospitals. The patients were given a dose of 1000 mg of theobromine twice daily for two weeks. After this period, patients reported relief from cough symptoms. The effect is similar to codeine, but without the side-effects associated with it.
11. May relieve chronic fatigue syndrome
Researchers from England, UK gave patients with chronic fatigue syndrome a daily dose of 1 ½-ounce of 85% cocoa chocolate over a period of 8 weeks. By the end of the study, participants reported feeling less fatigued after eating the chocolate. Researchers concluded that chocolates improve the function of neurotransmitters, such serotonin, which regulates mood and sleep.
Despite the above benefits, researchers still remind people to take chocolates in in moderation. Chocolate can be high in fat and cholesterol. It can also make you feel full, making you miss meals and other important nutrients. Some studies have also shown that chocolates can be addictive. So if you plan to include chocolates in your daily meal plan, remember to distribute it through the day and eat in moderation.