Healthy chocolate sounds like a dream come true, but chocolate hasn’t gained the status of health food quite yet. Still, chocolate’s reputation is on the rise, as a growing number of studies suggest that it can be a heart-healthy choice.
Chocolate and its main ingredient, cocoa, appear to reduce risk factors for heart disease. Flavanols in cocoa beans have antioxidant effects that reduce cell damage implicated in heart disease. Flavanols — which are more prevalent in dark chocolate than in milk chocolate — also help lower blood pressure and improve vascular function.
The darker the chocolate, the better for your health. Pure chocolate is actually quite bitter, which is why it is almost always combined with other ingredients in a chocolate bar. But the chocolate part of that bar is what contains the good stuff: fiber, magnesium and antioxidants.
A happier heart
Scientists at the Harvard University School of Public Health recently examined 136 studies on coco — the foundation for chocolate — and found it does seem to boost heart health, according to an article in the European journal Nutrition and Metabolism.
Chocolate checks cancer
Georgetown University researchers found that when breast cancer cells were treated with chocolate flavanols, the cells stopped dividing. The findings could also apply to other cancers.
If you’ve always thought of chocolate as a fat-inducing food, you may want to reacquaint yourself with this tasty treat. One study found that people who eat chocolate regularly are more likely to be thinner than those who don’t. People in the study who admitted to eating chocolate five times per week or more had a lower BMI (Body Mass Index) than those who ate chocolate less frequently, according to the 2012 study published the journal Archives of Internal Medicine.
Chocolate contains filling fiber, which is a natural appetite suppressant. So, if you give in to that chocolate craving, you may end up eating fewer calories than if you tried to avoid chocolate.
Chocolate milk may help you recover after a hard workout. In a small study at Indiana University, elite cyclists who drank chocolate milk between workouts scored better on fatigue and endurance tests than those who had some sports drinks. Yoo-hoo!
Chocolate helps blood flow
Dr. Norman Hollenberg of Harvard Medical School found that rates of stroke, heart disease, cancer and diabetes are less than 10 percent among Panama’s Kuna people, who drink up to 40 cups of cocoa per week. “The epicatechin in cocoa increases nitric oxide, which dilates vessels and improves blood flow,” he says. His belief is that epicatechin should be considered essential in our diet and should be classed as a vitamin.
Good loving (maybe)
Finally, Italian researchers wanted to know whether chocolate truly is an aphrodisiac. In a survey of 143 women published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, those who ate chocolate every day seemed to have more sex drive, better lubrication, and an easier time reaching orgasm. Pass the Godiva, right?
Not so fast. The women who ate chocolate were all younger than the ones who didn’t; it was age and not chocolate that made the difference. Still, if a double-chocolate raspberry truffle puts you in the mood, why let science get in the way?
There are of course other benefits to chocolate that I have not mentioned… such as the awesome taste.