The Health Benefits of Chocolate
Those of us with a pronounced sweet tooth don’t need to be convinced that chocolate is good for us. We are well acquainted with the feelings of bliss that accompany eating chocolate, which is why we satisfy our chocolate cravings frequently and without guilt. Good news, chocolate lovers! There may be scientific evidence to back up the truth every one of us already instinctively knows: Chocolate is good for your health.
Dark chocolate, that is.
First off, not all chocolate is created equal. The cacao tree, which is native to South America, produces the nibs or seeds (the heart of cocoa beans) that are ground into cocoa powder, which is then liquefied to produce cocoa butter and chocolate liquor. With its fatty acids and significant levels of fiber, iron, magnesium, and copper, the resulting dark chocolate (chocolate that contains at least 70% cocoa) is the only form of chocolate that can be legitimately considered a health food. Chocolate with lower levels of pure cocoa usually have a lot of added sugar. So if the health benefits of chocolate are your primary motivation for eating it, go with the dark variety.
Increased blood flow
When we eat chocolate, our brain releases dopamine, and the resulting increase in serotonin improves our moods, making us feel happy. But this increased blood flow is not just good for our overall moods. These health benefits of chocolate are also good for the mind, the heart, and the skin.
Heart and mind
The presence of theobromine—a stimulant known to increase heart rate and arousal (the reason chocolate is often considered to be an aphrodisiac) is also believed to be a cough suppressant.
Improved blood flow to the brain results in improved memory, which is why chocolate is a popular study aid. Also, the cocoa extract, lavado, has even been suggested as a viable treatment for Alzheimer’s disease!
Body health: inside and out
The increased blood flow inspired by chocolate means it may also be good for the skin, improving density and hydration and protecting the body from harmful UV rays. The antioxidants known as flavinols are only present in dark chocolate, which scores even higher than blueberries and acai berries for the amount of antioxidants it contains.
Flavinols are also believed to reduce cell damage, which means they may have cancer-preventing abilities as well. These powerful antioxidants make our blood vessels more elastic, help reduce clotting, and prevent inflammation. Unfortunately, these flavinols are often removed in the making of milk chocolate in order to sweeten their bitter taste.
The more concentrated the cocoa, the better it is for you. Some studies suggest that eating 20 grams of dark chocolate twice a week has cardiovascular benefits and may even contribute to the reduction of cholesterol levels. Chocolate is right up there with nuts, avocados, and leafy greens as one of the top magnesium-rich foods. Compared with coffee, there is very little caffeine in chocolate, so it is not likely to keep you up at night and makes the perfect after-dinner snack. So don’t lose sleep over your chocolate intake. Moderation is key.
Talk to one of our Scripps Affiliated Medical Groups advisors to learn more about specific health benefits of chocolate and indulge your sweet tooth with a clear conscience.