While satisfying most sugar cravings come with some kind of excuse - “just one bite”, “I’ll eat healthier tomorrow” - the same needn’t be true for dark chocolate. Despite being one of the most irresistible treats on the planet, some chocolate is in fact surprisingly healthy.
The fact that dark chocolate possesses health benefits has become popular knowledge in recent years, with people keen to snatch up any good excuse to treat themselves, but fewer people are aware of the exact benefits dark chocolate offers. A historically revered delicacy made from the seeds of the cacao tree, dark chocolate typically refers to chocolate that is made up of at least 50% cocoa solids, and is without milk. The higher the percentage of cocoa solids, the more health benefits are there to reap. Here are the reasons why you should add dark chocolate to your trolley on the next shop - aside from it being delicious, of course.
1. Improves blood flow
Many studies have shown results that indicate that dark chocolate could have a powerful role to play in lowering high blood pressure. This has been put down to the fact that the biochemical compounds contained in dark chocolate are thought to improve endothelial function. This means that they strengthen the function of endothelial cells - a thin protective layer of cells along the heart and blood vessels which regulate blood flow.
Further studies indicate that dark chocolate may also improve blood flow by softening the structure of the vascular system, making blood vessels less stiff and prone to constricted blood flow. Even better, the improved blood flow caused by dark chocolate is also thought to improve cognitive function by increasing blood flow to the brain.
2. May reduce heart disease
It’s becoming popular knowledge that dark chocolate may have a role to play in combating heart disease. The anti-inflammatory properties of dark chocolate help to prevent blood clots from forming in the vascular system, which, in combination with dark chocolate’s ability to improve overall blood flow, may reinforce cardiovascular health and help in the fight against often-fatal heart disease.
3. May combat strokes and diabetes
Encouraged by the results that have been demonstrated in its use against heart disease, researchers have been enthusiastically delving into whether dark chocolate could also be used to ward off the risk of stroke. In studies performed over the course of more than a decade, results suggested a strong correlation between higher levels of dark chocolate consumption, and a reduced risk of stroke.
Similarly, researchers posit that dark chocolate may be used to combat diabetes. Cocoa-rich chocolate has been shown to increase the body’s resistance to insulin, which prevents the development of diabetes. In this case, it’s wise to start eating dark chocolate from a young age, as with years of consumption, this increased insulin resistance may just be the preventing factor in developing the chronic disease.
4. Contains antioxidants and anti-inflammatories
Cocoa is packed full of chemicals known as flavanols that act as a wonder for health. Cocoa specifically contains a type of flavanols called flavan-3-ols, which is what gives it its pleasantly bitter edge. These chemicals act as antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, improving overall bodily function. In addition to flavanols, cocoa has a high number of other valuable antioxidants such as polyphenols and catechins.
5. Fights harmful cholesterol
A number of the organic compounds found in dark chocolate, like polyphenols and theobromine, have been demonstrated to lower the amount of the more harmful type of cholesterol, while simultaneously raising levels of good cholesterol. A review of clinical trials conducted over long periods of time and published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that adding dark chocolate to your diet proved a reliable way to balance overall cholesterol levels in the body - helping to improve cardiovascular health and fight off heart disease.
6. Offers UV protection
Surprisingly, dark chocolate has been shown to potentially act as somewhat of a natural sun cream. In addition to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, the flavanols contained in dark chocolate have a bioactive effect on the skin. The flavanols help to protect against UV damage, and have even been shown to increase the thickness and hydration of skin. This protective effect may even grow stronger over time, as research has correlated long term consumption of dark chocolate with increased resistance to harmful UVB rays.
7. Positive effect on mood
Chocolate is known for being a pick-me-up food, but this has more to it than just its delicious flavour. Dark chocolate stimulates the production of endorphins in the body, the chemical in the brain that causes the sensation of calmness and pleasure. Eating a little bit of chocolate throughout the day is a tried and tested way to improve both health and mood using the power of nutritional science.
Everything in moderation
Although dark chocolate has been shown to have a wide variety of positive health effects, it’s important not to overboard. For added benefits, opt for brands with lower sugar and a higher cocoa percentage. Adding a small serving of this kind of dark chocolate to your diet as a treat after dinner makes for a balanced and nutritious dessert option that you can enjoy without any guilt.