There’s nothing that quite compares to the velvety, melt-in-your-mouth culinary experience that chocolate provides.
For many years, this indulgence was touted as a junk food or guilty pleasure to be enjoyed every now and again. Yet even still, the average American eats almost 10 pounds of chocolate each year.
And with the use of chocolate dating back as far as 1900 BC, it certainly seems like chocolate won’t be going out of fashion anytime soon.
It’s clear that humans like chocolate. But what if we were wrong about it being bad for us? What if chocolate could actually be good for you?
Find out what the experts have to say and discover the hidden benefits that are locked within this time-honored treat!
1. Good Chocolate Is Packed With Antioxidants
You might have already heard that chocolate is high in antioxidants. But what does this actually mean for you?
Well, antioxidants are a group of natural food chemicals such as flavanols, polyphenols and catechins that fight free radicals in our body.
Free radicals cause oxidation and inflammation, which contribute toward aging processes, chronic disease and even cancer.
Therefore, antioxidants can have a therapeutic action by disarming free-radicals and their associated health issues.
The raw, unprocessed seeds from the cocoa tree are rumored to be one of the highest food sources of antioxidants. However, it is important to note that the antioxidant component is located in the non-fat part of the cacao beans, not the cacao fat or ‘cacao butter’, as it’s also called.
Therefore, cacao powder and good-quality dark chocolate are the best, highest-antioxidant forms of chocolate to eat. Dairy milk and white chocolate (which are higher in fat) contain far less antioxidants by comparison.
2. Cacao Contains Some Surprising Nutrients!
Cacao contains a surprisingly high number of nutrients and minerals, including:
- Soluble fiber
- And even iron!
Furthermore, unprocessed cacao contains almost 400 polyphenols (a type of antioxidant) and is reputed to have more phenolics than red wine or green tea. Not a bad nutritional profile for a ‘treat food’, right?
3. Chocolate Might Improve Your Brain Health
Many of the healthful components in cacao are able to cross the blood-brain barrier. Flavonoids and resveratrol are neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory, meaning that they may play a role in reducing inflammation within the Central Nervous System.
While this research is still in its infancy, and the mental may also be attributed to the stimulatory theobromine and caffeine in cacao, it is a biologically plausible claim.
4. Chocolate May Be Good For Blood Pressure
Now this is news to get your blood pumping. It appears that chocolate may help to keep our blood pressure down!
Some experts explain that the flavanols in chocolate interact with the endothelium that lines our arteries, causing cells to produce nitric oxide.
Although ‘nitric oxide’ might sound like a scary word, it’s actually very good news for our cardiovascular health. This natural gas helps the arteries to relax, which then relieves the resistance to blood flow and helps to lower our overall blood pressure.
Unfortunately, early trials indicate that eating chocolate alone is only likely to have a mild impact on your blood pressure, at best. However, as part of an overall diet and lifestyle strategy, it seems that a little bit of dark chocolate may have a place in maintaining good heart health.
5. Eating Chocolate Makes You Feel Gooooooood
You may have heard that chocolate can be a ‘mood-enhancer’ and ‘romance-inducer’. This is because chocolate is a source of ‘phenylethylamine’. This wonderful chemical stimulates all those feel-good endorphins that make the world suddenly seem like an even bigger, brighter, better place. It also mimics the sensation of falling in love within your brain, and might even boost serotonin production. That’s something to smile about!
A Final Caveat About Cacao
While these benefits all sound super wonderful, there are a few ‘buts’ to consider before we gleefully contemplate the idea of eating chocolate for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
- Firstly, much of the research around chocolate has been done in smaller-scale studies that may not be backed up by other replicable research. In other words, the evidence is early and there’s still lots we need to learn. Other experts claim that the health benefits of chocolate have been associative, which doesn’t necessarily imply a causal relationship.
- There are several edible cacao products and not all types are nutritionally equal. ‘Cacao’ is the bean that comes from the (Theobroma) cacao tree. ‘Cocoa’ is cacao that has been roasted, had much of the fat removed and ground into a fine powder. Cacao butter is the fat which comes from the cocoa bean.
- However, most of the potent nutrients, minerals and antioxidants are locked within the non-fat component of cocoa. Therefore, it’s best to choose the darkest, highest-quality and preferably raw chocolate you can find, as these types will contain more of the nutrient-dense cacao component. Plus, some people say that milk in dairy milk chocolate can block the uptake of antioxidants from chocolate, so that’s another reason to go for dark!
- Although the research is unclear, some people claim that chocolate can trigger migraines. Therefore, if you suffer from migraines regularly, you may wish to moderate your chocolate intake and monitor if it makes a difference.
Our verdict? Eat sensible quantities of dark, dairy-free chocolate a few times a week. In fact, one study suggests just 20g every three days is enough to get some benefits! (Otherwise, you can do what I do and add a scoop of the Food Matters Superfood Chocolate to smoothies and baking. It’s got all the goodness of pure cacao, without any of the unhealthy fats and sugars that many chocolates contain.)
Whatever you choose, go for the highest quality and savor each mouthful!