4 surprising health benefits of chocolate you’ll be delighted to know about

  • Food
health benefits of chocolate

Have you ever wondered if you can eat chocolate as part of a healthy diet? The good news is – you can! Not only is chocolate shown to be beneficial for cardiovascular health and is anti-inflammatory, it can also reduce stress and improve cognitive function. The bad news is this only applies to chocolate with 70% cocoa solids, so if you are a milk chocolate lover, it might be time to find another treat.

Why chocolate can be good for you

Chocolate has some surprising health benefits due to being rich in flavonoids. Raw cacao powder (which is made by cold pressing unroasted cocoa beans) is packed full of flavonoids and enzymes that are beneficial to health and digestion. However, you are unlikely to want to eat pure cacao as it has a bitter taste (it is mixed in to some of the RYH recipes though). The next best thing is chocolate with 70% (or more) cocoa solids as it is rich in the same flavonoids. 

Milk chocolate doesn’t have the same flavonoid content as dark chocolate, so none of these health benefits really apply. In fact, milk chocolate contains almost twice the amount of sugar as a 70% dark chocolate alternative, so to consume enough flavonoids for milk chocolate to be beneficial, you would have to eat far too much sugar!

However, 70% dark chocolate has some incredible health benefits!

1. Dark chocolate can help you destress 

For many of us when we are stressed or just at the end of a long day, we turn to a bar of chocolate to give us a quick boost. However, there is a scientific reason why this is such a popular choice when we are feeling a little overwhelmed! Chocolate is thought to have mood boosting properties because of the presence of valeric acid, with is a stress reducer and theobromine which affects the body in a similar way to caffeine, boosting alertness and energy and helping us to feel relaxed and content. Dark chocolate can also reduce the levels of cortisol (stress hormone) in the body. A study in Switzerland on thirty healthy participants found that eating 40g of dark chocolate per day seemed to reduce levels of stress-related hormones and normalise the metabolic ‘signature’ of systematic stress (1). 

2. Dark Chocolate can protect your heart

Chocolate is a proven vasodilator, encouraging the expansion of blood vessels and promotes circulation. Cocoa flavonoids have a European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) permitted health claim that they “help maintain elasticity of blood vessels which contributes to normal blood flow (2). This can reduce blood pressure and strain on the heart. 

Furthermore, chocolate contains flavonoids that break down dangerous oxidised LDL cholesterol which damages tissues surrounding it. Several studies have found that when participants consumed dark chocolate, their levels of LDL oxidation fell (3).

3. Dark chocolate is anti-inflammatory

Chocolate also has anti-inflammatory properties. Although some of the cocoa flavonoids cannot be broken down by human digestion, they are digested by bacteria in the gut which then release anti-inflammatory molecules which can be easily absorbed into the bloodstream (4).

4. Dark Chocolate can protect your skin   

Chocolate can help to protect the skin from UV light by improving blood flow as well as increasing skin density and hydration. In one study, patients fed 20g a day of dark chocolate for 12 weeks, found that their minimum exposure to UVB radiation to cause redness in the skin was almost doubled (5).

So, given the health benefits of chocolate, there’s no real reason not to treat yourself to some dark chocolate. 

References

1. Martin F-PJ, Rezzi S, Peré-Trepat Emma, Kamlage B, Collino S, Leibold E, et al. Metabolic Effects of Dark Chocolate Consumption on Energy, Gut Microbiota, and Stress-Related Metabolism in Free-Living Subjects. Journal of Proteome Research. 2009;8(12):5568–79. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19810704/

2. Cocoa flavanols and endothelium-dependent vasodilation [Internet]. European Food Safety Authority. European Food Safety Authority; 2012 [cited 2020Jun26]. Available from: https://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/pub/2809

3. Ding E, Hutfless S, Ding X, Girotra S. Chocolate and prevention of cardiovascular disease: a systematic review. Nutrition & Metabolism. 2006;3(1):2. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16390538/

4. Salaritabar A, Darvishi B, Hadjiakhoondi F, Manayi A, Sureda A, Nabavi SF, et al. Therapeutic potential of flavonoids in inflammatory bowel disease: A comprehensive review. World Journal of Gastroenterology. 2017Jul28;23(28):5097. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5537178/

5. Williams S, Tamburic S, Lally C. Eating chocolate can significantly protect the skin from UV light. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology. 2009Sep;8(3):169–73. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19735513/