Those of us with a love/hate relationship with chocolate can be at ease this Valentine’s day with a glimpse into some of the delightful findings from the research on dark chocolate. Yes, dark chocolate. Despite the fact that dark chocolate lacks the sugar and dairy fat that makes milk chocolate so tasty, there are several reasons that make dark chocolate so darn good. Dark chocolate is a powerful source of antioxidants loaded with polyphenols, flavanols, and catechins that, when consumed in moderation, has several health benefits.
1. Dark chocolate is nutritious! Dark chocolate with high cocoa content is rich in fiber, magnesium, copper, manganese, and is a great source for potassium, phosphorus, zinc, and selenium.
2. Promotes healthier skin. The antioxidant-rich dark chocolate improves skin hydration and thickness, and protects the skin against the sunburns.
3. Improves brain function. Cocoa’s flavanols improves blood flow to the brain, which can improve your ability to focus during cognitive tasks.
4. Helps reduce stress. In one study, researchers found that eating about an ounce of dark chocolate each day for two weeks reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol among highly stressed individuals.
5. Lowers risk of heart disease. The flavanols in cocoa stimulates the production of Nitric Oxide, which improves blood flow and lowers blood pressure. Cocoa butter also helps raise levels of HDL (good cholesterol) and lower levels of LDL (bad cholesterol).
6. Aids in weight loss. Dark chocolate helps lessen cravings for sweet, salty, fatty foods. Some studies found that smelling dark chocolate stimulated an anti-hunger hormone that helps decrease the appetite.
7. Acts as a probiotic. Eating dark chocolate can help promote gut health by selectively feeding beneficial bacteria (Bifidobacterium and lactic acid bacteria).
8. Powers your workout. Cocoa has catechins that increase the muscle’s absorption of nutrients that create energy, which helps boost energy levels pre- and post-workout.
Most experts advise sticking to chocolate that is at least 70% cacao. Basically, the higher the cacao percentage, the darker and healthier it is. One study recommends consumption limited to 1.7 ounces per week because the positive effects are attenuated when out of the moderate range. Look for labels that say organic, fair trade, and avoid those that are processed with alkali, which reduces the amount of flavanols. Also avoid chocolate with artificial sweeteners, fructose, or high fructose corn syrup because they will reverse some of the positive benefits of chocolate. Make sure to check for chocolate made with cocoa butter or coconut oil as opposed to soybean oil, vegetable oils and trans fats. Recommended brands include Ghirardelli, Godiva, and Lindt.