Chocolate is the ultimate comfort food. Even nutritionists can’t get enough of it (myself included). But is it actually healthy?
As it turns out, chocolate has a whole host of health benefits, with research linking it to everything from a lower risk of heart disease and stroke, to better concentration and less stress. Chocolate comes from the seeds of the cacao tree, which are roasted and ground to make cocoa powder. Cacao is a potent source of antioxidants including flavonoids and polyphenols. These antioxidants help our body fight and repair damage caused by free radicals.
Unfortunately, not all chocolate is considered equal. Cocoa on its own is quite bitter, so most of the chocolate you find in stores is mixed with butter, milk, sugar, and other ingredients. Too much of any of these ingredients dilute the cocoa, and along with it the benefits of chocolate.
Which Chocolate is Healthiest?
In order to get the most health benefits, choose dark chocolate that is at least 70 percent cocoa. Look for varieties whose only ingredients are cocoa, butter, milk, and sugar. Eat one or two ounces of dark chocolate, or try one of many ways nutritionists enjoy chocolate.
7 Health Benefits of Chocolate
- Lower your blood pressure. If you have elevated blood pressure, a serving of dark chocolate may help bring it down. Studies have shown that the polyphenols in cocoa can help lower blood pressure.
- Decrease your cholesterol levels. Chocolate consumption has been shown to help lower levels of LDL or “bad” cholesterol while increasing levels of the good HDL-cholesterol.
- Improve your heart health. Through lowering your blood pressure and cholesterol, your risk of heart disease drops. Chocolate can also improve blood flow to the heart and the brain, which makes it less likely to clot, lowering your chance of stroke and heart attack.
- Boost your brainpower. Chocolate contains caffeine, which increases your alertness and concentration in the short-term. Plus, the flavanols in chocolate dilate your blood vessels, allowing more oxygen and blood to reach your brain and helping to stave off fatigue.
- Feel more relaxed. It turns out there’s a reason so many people crave chocolate when they’re stressed. Stress causes an uptick of cortisol in your body. Studies found that when anxious people ate dark chocolate, their stress hormone levels dropped significantly. These benefits were seen with just an ounce and a half of chocolate.
- Lift your mood. Dark chocolate stimulates the release of endorphins, chemicals in your brain that induce feelings of pleasure and euphoria. Chocolate also boosts serotonin production, a hormone that reduces feelings of sadness and depression.
- Feel more satiated. Dark chocolate is more filling compared to milk chocolate, so a little bit can go a long way, keeping you full and satiated for longer. Treat yourself to a few squares of dark chocolate, instead of snacking on other sugary snack foods.
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