Culture

Proven Health Benefits of Chocolate

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Between Halloween, severe snack attacks, and the temptation of the latest chocolatey treats appearing on store shelves each year, it’s understandable that even the most hardcore of candy fiends occasionally pause to consider if their favorite food isn’t as healthy as they’d like it to be. I’ve got good news for all of you chocoholics: There are plenty of health benefits that come from eating chocolate, and I have the science to back up that wonderful claim.

What if I told you that eating chocolate can help you to lose weight? Researchers have discovered that the high levels of flavonoids found in dark chocolate lessen your insulin resistance, which helps to reduce blood sugar spikes, and tells your brain to eat less food. It has been found that dark chocolate is a more filling snack, and that the scent of chocolate helps to curb food cravings. As an added bonus, chocolate bars sporting high levels of cocoa are rich with beneficial nutrients such as copper, magnesium, fiber, iron, and potassium.

Don’t take it from me, as neuroscientist Will Clower wrote a book called Eat Chocolate, Lose Weight that encourages people to eat some chocolate shortly before and after meals to slice their appetites by up to 50 percent.

It turns out that chocolate is a heart-healthy snack too! Studies have shown that eating a few squares of dark chocolate each day can decrease blood pressure, reduce inflammation, promote a healthy blood flow, lower bad cholesterol levels, and may cause blood platelets to clot more slowly. Consuming a bit of chocolate each day can lower the risk of death from a heart attack by up to 50 percent, according to Diane Becker, a scientist from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine: “The flavanols in cocoa beans have a biochemical effect of reducing platelet clumping, similar to but much less than aspirin.”

Chocolate can also make you happier. You didn’t need me to tell you that you feel good when you’re eating chocolate, but did you know that there are scientific studies confirming that consuming chocolate is a definitive mood-booster? Outside of pleasing your taste buds and sating your hunger, dark chocolate stimulates your brain to create endorphins, chemical compounds that gives you a feeling of satisfaction.

A group of Swiss researchers provided 30 extremely stressed participants a bar of chocolate to eat each day over 14 days. Blood and urine samples were taken from the frazzled chocolate munchers throughout the study, and they found far fewer stress hormones like cortisol and catecholamines in the samples at the end of the two weeks. The Nestle Research Center noted their conclusions in a 2009 report:

The daily consumption of dark chocolate resulted in a significant modification of the metabolism of healthy and free living human volunteers with potential long-term consequences on human health within only 2 weeks treatment. This was observable through the reduction of levels of stress-associated hormones and normalization of the systemic stress metabolic signatures.

Countless studies have been performed to observe how dark chocolate affects the human body, and it’s been determined that eating chocolate can help prevent diabetes, suppress stubborn coughs, aid people with chronic fatigue syndrome, treat a nasty case of diarrhea, protect your skin from ultraviolet radiation, and lower your risk of having a stroke. Sounds like a miracle snack to me!

There are a few general tips if you want to get the most out of your chocolate cravings. First off, you’ll want to look for chocolate that is at least 70 percent cocoa/cacao, because a higher concentration of nonfat cocoa solids will contain a higher level of antioxidants and flavonoids. Also avoid less-healthy chocolates that feature admittedly tasty extras, like caramel, fatty nougat, and chocolate bars that are loaded with unnecessary sugar. On the other hand, there are plenty of nutritious bits that candy makers often add to their chocolate, such as nuts, berries, orange peel shavings, and sea salt, so feel free to give those a try. Since all chocolates contain sugar and caffeine to some degree, you’ve got to be careful not to overdo it, especially if you are sensitive to caffeine. Oh, and as tasty as milk and white chocolate are, they contain much more sugar and fat, and far less nutritious cocoa than you would find in dark chocolate, so grab a dark chocolate bar labeled with a 70 percent cocoa content or higher, and you’ve found a healthy snack!

Oh, and I have one more special tip for anyone with a sweet tooth who made it to the end of the article: Mars is releasing a Milky Way Fudge bar in Spring 2018 that contains caramel, chocolate, and of course, fudge nougat. Sure, it’s not even close to the healthy kinds of chocolate that I detailed above, but it’s ok to treat yourself once in a while. You’re welcome!