Chocolate is usually thought of as an unhealthy treat. But dark chocolate – especially if it is more than 70% cocoa – has a whole host of health benefits. This article will discuss seven of the most impressive.
1. Cardiovascular health
Perhaps the most significant benefit of cocoa is its effect on the cardiovascular system. Flavonoids in chocolate stimulate your artery linings, improving blood flow and thus reducing blood pressure. Eating dark chocolate has been shown to both lower bad cholesterol and raise good cholesterol. It also stops LDL from oxidizing and clogging your arteries. Studies have shown that frequent chocolate consumption can reduce the likelihood of plaque forming in the arteries by 32%, and decrease the risk of cardiovascular death by 50%.
Cocoa can also improve the distribution of red blood cells and reduce the risk of stroke, which is caused by clogged arteries in the brain. Additionally, it reduces insulin resistance, protecting against both heart disease and diabetes.
2. Brain and mental health
Cocoa is known to improve blood flow to the brain, and therefore improve cognitive function. Those who consume dark chocolate score better on several measures of cognition, including reasoning and spatial awareness.
Components of cocoa can also prevent depression by boosting mood and energy levels. One of these components is serotonin, well-known for improving mood.
3. Skin health
Compounds in cocoa improve blood flow to the skin as well as the brain. This can improve skin density and hydration. Additionally, flavonoids in cocoa can protect against sun damage – but don’t rely on chocolate as your only means of skin protection!
4. Immune system functioning
Dark chocolate can reduce inflammation in the body, protecting against various illnesses. It also has a positive effect on the cells which produce antibodies – these allow your body to fight off disease and infections. Additionally, it enables the lymphoid tissues, which coordinate your immune response, to produce cells more efficiently.
Raw cocoa has one of the highest levels of antioxidants of any food. Antioxidants fight inflammation and destroy harmful free radicals, protecting against chronic disease. This greatly reduces your risk of developing cancer, as antioxidants can destroy cancer cells.
During pregnancy, blood pressure increases, which can cause problems. But as already discussed, cocoa may help to lower blood pressure, which can improve fetal growth. It also reduces the risk of preeclampsia, a condition where not enough blood reaches the developing foetus.
Dark chocolate contains a whole host of important nutrients. It is high in fiber, which is important for digestion and which most people don’t get enough of. It is also a good source of both iron and calcium. Additionally, it contains copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, zinc and selenium.
Although dark chocolate has many amazing benefits, it is important to remember to enjoy it in moderation. Cocoa is high in saturated fat, and even dark chocolate does have added sugar. So feel free to enjoy a square or two for dessert, but don’t overdo it. And remember that chocolate does contain small amounts of caffeine – something to bear in mind if you suffer from insomnia or caffeine sensitivity. For everyone else – enjoy!