Are you going to spoil your loved ones this Easter, or just profit from the hordes of reduced chocolates once the consumerist love peak has passed? Well, either way, you’re in luck – dark chocolate has a lot going for it.
Potential health benefits of chocolate
- Heart health: dark chocolate has been shown to reduce the risk factors associated with atherosclerosis, an unpleasant arterial condition that increases you risk of developing cardio vascular disease (CVD). It works against artery blockages by restoring their flexibility and preventing white blood cells from sticking to them.
- Reduced blood pressure: It has been suggested that the flavanols contained in dark chocolate can stimulate the production of nitric oxide, which can prompt the arteries to relax. However, there are more medically approved ways to reduce blood pressure you should try first.
- Reduced stroke risk: a Finnish study demonstrated that dark chocolate consumption reduced the risk of suffering a stroke among 17% of its participants.
- Lower ‘bad’ cholesterol: cocoa has been shown to reduce levels of low-density lipoproteins which can increase your risk of heart disease.
- Strong nutrient profile: dark chocolate is full of important minerals, including potassium, iron, and zinc. It also contains a fair amount of fibre and many antioxidants.
- Mental health: Ever wondered why chocolate goes so well with romantic occasions? It contains phenylethylamine, the same chemical your brain releases when you feel in love. The endorphins it releases gives you a real feel-good factor, so you may choose just to keep the chocolate all to yourself this Valentine’s Day…
- Skin health: research also suggests the flavanols in dark chocolate provide some protection against skin damage caused by the sun. If you’re heading out into the sun, we still suggest you opt for sun cream ahead of a bar of chocolate though.
What’s the catch?
The potential health benefits of chocolate need to be weighed against some hard truths: you’ll need to be eating a fair amount of the stuff to benefit from its nutritional riches.
As exciting as this sounds, this may not be so great for your health in the long run. As a fat- and sugar-heavy food filled with calories, chocolate already poses some issues for your health. The claims promoting chocolate’s benefits for heart health would, for one, be completely negated if you gorged on the stuff – consuming lots of chocolate can lead to weight gain, which is a key contributing factor to heart disease and diabetes.
The bottom line on chocolate
That’s not to say that you should stop eating chocolate altogether, but just enjoy it in moderation. Also bear in mind that the above health benefits are mostly linked to the consumption of dark chocolate where the cocoa content is 75-80%. For those accustomed to fattier milk chocolate varieties, switching to a strong, bitter variety of chocolate may not be an option.
But there is some good news! Research is currently under way to reduce some of chocolate’s unhealthy traits. By using water, fruit juice, and even alcohol to replace some of its binding fats, scientists have already been able to halve chocolate’s fat content without sacrificing its silky smooth texture.