The Many Benefits of Chocolate
Like anyone trying to shed the kilos, you probably know that foods high in sugar and fat are bad news for your diet. If you’re a chocolate lover, this is nothing short of devastating, but cry no more: a flurry of research studies have shown that eating chocolate in moderate amounts offers some amazing health benefits, including losing weight.
Research published in March 2012 in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed that those who consumed chocolate more often had a lower Body Mass Index (BMI). The BMI calculates whether you are underweight, overweight, or have a healthy weight in relation to your height. The study tracked 1,000 Californians aged 20 to 85 who on average ate chocolate twice a week and exercised 3.6 each week. The study’s results were unable to be explained by a healthier overall diet or with increased exercise.
While the study doesn’t establish beyond doubt chocolate as the causation of weight loss, other research suggests that chocolate may increase metabolism. Dr. Beatrice Golomb, one of the study’s authors, says “Chocolate can be rich in antioxidants, which can protect against oxidative stress. That has the ability to ‘poison’ cell metabolism a little bit.” Dr. Golomb also says that the research shows a “reasonably strong” possibility that there’s a stronger, causal connection between chocolate and weight loss, but that further research is required. One theory put forth is that the antioxidants in dark chocolate may reduce inflammation, which in turn balances hormones that end up assisting weight loss.
The same study that determined the link between chocolate and increased metabolism also linked the consumption of chocolate to a decreased risk of diabetes, stroke, and heart disease. Cocoa, chocolate’s main ingredient, contains flavanols that have antioxidant effects that reduce cell damage that has been cited as a cause of heart disease. Flavanols are most prevalent in dark chocolate and have also shown to lower blood pressure improve vascular function.
Dietitians recommend that you add dark chocolate with a cocoa content of 65% or higher in moderation to your diet for optimal benefits. 75-100 grams a day should be your upper limit, as this is the amount that’s proven to be beneficial; any more than that and you risk the detrimental effects of high fat, sugar, and caloric foods, including weight loss. Remember to keep track of your caloric and fat intake, and if your chocolate consumption increases either, make up for it in other areas either by increased exercise or cutting calories from another part of your diet.
More Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate
If our recent article on the benefits of chocolate in assisting weight loss didn’t convince you to add some cocoa to your diet, you may want to keep reading. Chocolate is not only linked to healthier eating patterns but better health overall. So celebrate your sweet tooth and eat a small chunk of dark chocolate to receive benefits such as the following.
Eat Chocolate, Eat Less
Dark chocolate is a high fiber food, meaning it helps you stay feeling full so you eat less. A study conducted by the University of Copenhagen found that chocolate may specifically reduce your cravings for sweet, fatty, and salty foods.
Remember to stick to dark chocolate, as the study found that milk chocolate was found to be less filling.
Decrease Your Risk of Heart Disease and Stroke
A study conducted over a period of 10 years in Sweden found that women who ate more than 45 grams of chocolate each week had a lower risk of stroke than those who consumed less than 9 grams.
Other studies have focused on the cardiovascular benefits of dark chocolate. Those who incorporated dark chocolate into their diet experienced an array of benefits, from lower blood pressure to lower amounts of LDL cholesterol.
Flavanoids, which are found in high amounts in dark chocolate, have been identified as the key ingredient to lowering LDL cholesterol. LDL is the “bad” kind of cholesterol that enables plaque to build on your artery walls, which in turn cause heart attacks when adequate amounts of blood are unable to pass through. Flavanoids prevent the oxidation of LDL, thereby preventing the hardening of your arteries. A 2008 study published in the Journal of Nutrition also found that flavonoids and other polyphenols found in dark chocolate have anti-inflammation properties, decreasing the amount of C-reactive protein, which also increases one’s chances of heart disease and stroke.
Protection from Diabetes
If this epidemic runs in your family, a moderate amount of dark chocolate in your diet is a must. A small study conducted at the University of L’Aquila in 2005 showed that dark chocolate decreases blood pressure and increases insulin sensitivity in otherwise healthy individuals. Be sure to pick up dark chocolate though (at least 65% cocoa), as the study found milk and white chocolate didn’t produce the same results.
It seems you can’t go wrong with flavonoids! These magical polyphenolic compounds that are found in abundance in dark chocolate also help protect your skin from UV damage. A 2006 study in Germany found the following:
Following exposure of selected skin areas to 1.25 x minimal erythemal dose (MED) of radiation from a solar simulator, UV-induced erythema was significantly decreased in the high flavanol group, by 15 and 25%, after 6 and 12 wk of treatment…The ingestion of high flavanol cocoa led to increases in blood flow of cutaneous and subcutaneous tissues, and to increases in skin density and skin hydration…Evaluation of the skin surface showed a significant decrease of skin roughness and scaling in the high flavanol cocoa group compared with those at wk 12. Dietary flavanols from cocoa contribute to endogenous photoprotection, improve dermal blood circulation, and affect cosmetically relevant skin surface and hydration variables.
In other words, if you want youthful looking skin, keep it hydrated and protected from the sun with dark chocolate (as well as plenty of water!). However, this is no excuse to skip the sunscreen and other preventative measures to block UV rays from damaging your body and causing cancer.
Chocolate is Brain Food
Just in case you thought the benefits of flavanols couldn’t get better, it does. Flavanols also boost blood flow to the brain, making you feel awake, alert, and focused. David Kennedy of Northumbria University told The Telegraph, “For things that are difficult to do, mentally demanding things that maybe crop up in your work it could help.”
So get a bit of dark chocolate into your diet to start reaping these benefits. We recommend 50-75 grams a day, and to do a bit of exercise in conjunction to burn off the calories that come with this beneficial food. The difference will show when you hop onto the scales and your sweet tooth will thank you too!