Whether you’re an avid baker, or just love a sweet treat, it’s hard to resist the appeal of chocolate. But increasing evidence shows that resistance may not be necessary. Studies demonstrate myriad benefits of chocolate, from creating a feel-good buzz to boosting cardiovascular health. Read on to learn more, then try some healthy recipes.
The Latest Research
A recent study in the journal Heart shows that habitual chocolate consumption is linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Keeping in mind that the study only demonstrated correlation (not causation), it’s nonetheless exciting to see that among participants who consumed a relatively high volume of chocolate every day, 12% developed or died of cardiovascular disease during the 12-year study. Compare that to participants who didn’t eat chocolate at all, among whom 17.4% developed or died of the disease. How much were the chocolate-eaters consuming? About 16 to 100 grams per day, or roughly one half to two typical chocolate bars.
What Makes Chocolate Healthy?
The potential health benefits of chocolate may come from flavonoids, a type of polyphenol, which cacao, the plant chocolate is derived from, has in spades. Flavonoids (and polyphenols) are often touted as an antioxidant, anti-carcinogen, and anti-inflammatory.
However, not all chocolate is created equal. A general rule of thumb asserts that the higher the cacao percentage of a chocolate bar, the more health benefits it contains. A lower percentage bar will contain less good-for-you cacao and more sugar and dairy. That’s why many recommend dark chocolate over milk. Research shows that dark chocolate may improve mobility among the elderly, raise good cholesterol, lower bad cholesterol, and benefit cognitive function.
Legitimate Health Benefits Of Chocolate
Eating antioxidant-rich chocolate leads to skin that’s smoother, less dried out, and more resistant to sunburn, studies have shown. One, in theEuropean 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.
It’s the sugar in chocolate candies that rots your teeth - cocoa actually protects them. Cocoa bean husks contain antibacterial compounds that inhibit the formation of plaque and biofilms where cavity-causing bacteria can thrive. In fact, in a study of Indian children who hadn’t brushed in four days, a single rinse with a cocoa-based mouthwash reduced plaque by nearly 50 percent and killed 21 percent of bacteria.
Dark Chocolate is a Powerful Source of Antioxidants
Have you ever heard of a measure called ORAC?
ORAC stands for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity. It is a measure of the antioxidant activity of foods.
Basically, researchers pit a bunch of free radicals (bad) against a sample of food and see how well the antioxidants in the food can “disarm” them.
The biological relevance of this metric is questioned, because it’s done in a test tube and may not have the same effect in the body.
However, I think it is worth mentioning that raw, unprocessed cocoa beans are among the highest scoring foods that have been tested.
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.