Sweet Health Benefits of Chocolate

Sweet Health Benefits of Chocolate

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.

In addition, some research has linked chocolate consumption to reduced risks of diabetes, stroke and heart attack. But more research is needed to confirm these results.

In the meantime, if you want to add chocolate to your diet, do so in moderation. Why? Most commercial chocolate has ingredients that add fat, sugar and calories. And too much can contribute to weight gain, a risk factor for high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.

On the other hand, cocoa itself, unlike chocolate, is low in sugar and fat while offering potential health benefits. If you enjoy chocolate flavor, add plain cocoa to your low-fat milk or morning oats.

Maintaining Heart Health

Chocolate can play a key role in reducing your risk of heart disease. And it doesn’t take much. One study found that adults who ate slightly less than an ounce of chocolate each day had lower rates of heart disease than those who didn’t eat any. While more research is needed to pinpoint exactly how chocolate is doing this, it’s clear the type of chocolate you eat isn’t important; positive effects showed up for both light and dark varieties.

Controlling Cholesterol

Chocolate’s antioxidants seem to protect against plaque buildup on your artery walls, too. A study in the Journal of Nutrition linked regular chocolate consumption with reduced LDL cholesterol, the unhealthy type that builds up in arteries. Two elements of chocolate—stearic and oleic acid—are thought to be the ingredients that keep cholesterol levels in check. Here, dark chocolate has the advantage: Comparative studies have linked darker chocolate to the strongest cholesterol-lowering effects.

Easing Blood Pressure

Eating a small square of chocolate that contains 50 to 70% cocoa on a daily basis can help lower your blood pressure, especially if you have hypertension. When blood pressure—the force pushing out on your artery walls—remains high for a long time, arteries become stretched and even damaged. Chocolate combats this with flavonoids, nutrients that have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant powers. These cause blood vessels to dilate, improving blood flow to the brain and heart and reducing blood pressure

Preventing Cognitive Decline

Drinking two cups of hot chocolate each day can improve brain health and prevent memory decline. A Harvard Medical School study showed that chocolate increased blood flow in particular areas of the brain, improving cognitive function in adults. Research has also shown that people who consume chocolate each day have improved attention, memory, and executive function.

Maintaining a Healthy Weight

Regularly eating chocolate can actually help you make healthy diet choices. Researchers from the University of Copenhagen found that after eating chocolate, particularly the darker version, people experienced fewer cravings for sweet, salty, and fatty foods, and they felt more satiated overall. This means indulging in a bit of dark chocolate on a regular basis can not only leave you feeling happy and satisfied—it can also help you stick to a healthy diet.

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