Today is World Chocolate Day. To celebrate, we're bringing you 15 benefits chocolate can have on health. If your goal is a healthy lifestyle, read on and indulge on some savory cocoa goodness.
Note: This article isn't meant to serve as actual health recommendations.
Humans have been consuming chocolate for almost 4000 years. The earliest evidence of chocolate use in medicine goes back to pre-Hispanic civilizations around 600 B.C.E.
There are a lot of myths surrounding chocolate. But, many studies in recent years have found that chocolate can have positive impacts on health.
From cardiovascular to psychological, from mental to dermatological. Let's look at how some chocolate-y goodness can be beneficial to us.
1. Dark chocolate has nutrients that can impact your health
A serving size of 100g (about one bar) of dark chocolate is a good source of minerals which includes Iron, Magnesium, Copper, and Manganese. Additionally, dark chocolate is rich in dietary fiber.
Do keep in mind dark chocolate has high saturated fats which can be harmful. Additionally, eating a whole bar of chocolate can amount to 600 calories a day. So it's best to keep a moderate consumption.
2. Cacao and dark chocolate are rich in antioxidants
Antioxidants are molecules that slow down a cell's aging process. Some of these molecules are "polyphenols", and cacao seeds are rich in polyphenols.
A study from 2011 found that for every gram of cacao, there are 50 mg of polyphenols. That means that cacao, and cacao products contain more antioxidants than most foods.
3. Cacao and dark chocolate improve cardiovascular health
A study from Pennsylvania State University used cacao powder and dark chocolate as supplements in a diet. The results showed a decrease in LDL (bad cholesterol), and an increase in HDL (good cholesterol).
Dark chocolate has also reduced blood pressure and improved insulin resistance in hypertensive patients.
4. Chocolate can protect skin from sun damage
Dark chocolate is rich in flavanols --a type of polyphenol. A study has shown that eating chocolate can protect the skin from UV light.
So if you're planning a trip to the beach, you better stack up on cocoa a few days or weeks beforehand.
5. Drinking hot chocolate keeps a healthy brain in older people
Scientists at Harvard have found a strong correlation between chocolate and a healthy brain in older people.
The result is also associated with greater white matter structural integrity. This means the patients found a reduced memory decline during test trials.
6. Cacao extract might improve cognitive function in patients with Alzheimer's
Results showed an extract, called lavado, might reduce damage to nerve pathways. This extract could help slow symptoms such as cognitive decline.
7. Chocolate might lower risk of stroke
Canadian scientists found that eating chocolate might reduce the risk of stroke, according to analysis.
The analysis of available research involved reviewing three studies on chocolate and stroke.
The first study found that people who ate one serving of chocolate per week were 22% less likely to have a stroke.
The second study found that people who ate 50g of chocolate once a week were 46% less likely to die following a stroke.
The third study found no link between eating chocolate and risk of stroke or death.
Study author Sarah Sahib says chocolate benefits on stroke risk needs more research.
8. Eating chocolate during pregnancy might benefit fetal growth and development
According to a study, eating 30g of chocolate daily during pregnancy might benefit fetal growth and development.
The 2016 Pregnancy Meeting of the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine presented these results.
Expectant mothers shouldn't overindulge due to its fat, sugar and caffeine content.
9. It can help relieve a cough
According to Women's Health magazine, one study found that chocolate quieted coughs almost as well as codeine.
This happens because chocolate contains a chemical called theobromine. Theobromine handles chocolate's feel-good effect, and may suppress activity in a part of the brain called the vagus nerve.
10. Dark chocolate has some anti-inflammatory effects
Inflammation occurs as the body's response to germs and other harmful substances. Dark chocolate contains compounds with anti-inflammatory properties which could help reduce inflammation.
A small study from 2018 examined the effects of dark chocolate on the immune system. Results proposed that large amounts of dark chocolate affect the genes that control immune response. But, it remains unclear how this study will be of significance.
Researchers also found that eating 30g of dark chocolate daily for 2 months has some benefits on people with type 2 diabetes. The authors of the study suggest further tests to examine the impact of chocolate on insulin.
11. Chocolate influences bone health
Bone loss resulting in increased risk for osteoporosis is a major health issue worldwide. Dark chocolate components have the potential to benefit bone health.
Studies showed adolescents consuming chocolate had greater longitudinal bone growth. Postmenopausal women had no bone effects at moderate chocolate intakes.
Unsweetened cacao powder appeared to be the best option to support and preserve bone health, followed by dark chocolate.
12. Dark chocolate helps satiate hunger in postmenopausal women
Chocolate has somewhat of a reputation for weight gain. This is due to its high fat, calorie and sugary contents. Yet the effect of higher cacao concentration, like in dark chocolate, hasn't been clear.
A study set out to analyze this. 14 postmenopausal women attended several sessions. Results found dark chocolate does indeed attenuates food intake in postmenopausal women. So you can go ahead an eat that squared piece of goodness as a snack!
13. Chocolate affects your mood if you practice mindfulness
Have you read before that chocolate has an impact on mood? Truth is, there hasn't been any concrete evidence to back this up.
An experiment tried to test this out. Test subjects ate chocolate or crackers, some being mindful about it while others not. Test subjects showed an increase in positive mood, particularly when being mindful about it.
14. There is an association between chocolate intake and cognitive function
As we mentioned before, medical use of chocolate dates back to ancient times. But the relationship between chocolate and cognitive function isn't well understood.
A study of 968 participants, aged 23-98, we tested for analysis. There was a connection between frequent chocolate consumption and cognition.
Participants showed improvement in the following areas:
- Better performance on the Global Composite Score
- Visual-Spatial Memory and Organization
- Working Memory
- Scanning and Tracking
- Abstract Reasoning
- And the Mini-Mental State Examination
It is worth noting that the study didn't find any long-term correlation. The authors suggest more tests to explore underlying relations between chocolate and cognition.
15. Chocolate might ease anxiety and depression among cancer patients
Anxiety and depression symptoms are common among cancer patients.
There is evidence of a connection between chocolate and mental health. A team of scientists from Malaysia decided to test out this connection. For 3 days, 113 cancer patients ate 50g of dark chocolate. Patients not only reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression, results also showed an improvement in health-related quality of life.
Dark chocolate and cacao components are full of nutrients and substances that are beneficial to our health in so many different aspects. Keep in mind though, these studies looked at the benefits of dark chocolate. Milk chocolate has much more fat and sugar content, and white chocolate doesn't even have any cacao solids.
Despite all the benefits of dark chocolate, these studies also looked at controlled intakes. Meaning, people received one-serving work of chocolate which amounts to approximately a single square. Increasing doses might be detrimental to health due to the amount of fatty and sugar.
So you don't have to feel about eating that square of chocolate. You could implement some dark chocolate as a supplement to your diet and enjoy the long-term improvements.
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