By Grace Miazga
As it turns out, chocolate is no longer our frenemy, in fact it comes off as more of a disguised hero. Now being referred to by many as a “superfood”, numerous studies have indicated chocolate having…almost superhuman health benefits. Although it’s not chocolate itself that causes such positive results, but rather cocao – a bean-like seed that cocoa, cocoa butter, and chocolate is derived from.
Cocao holds many components that help the body perform properly, while decreasing the risk of developing certain diseases. The big one we are probably most familiar with is antioxidants. Antioxidants help the body fend off damage caused by free radicals that can be brought on by daily functions, such as breathing, or exposure to environmental chemicals, like smoking. The prime antioxidant compound found in cocao is flavonoids. Flavonoids aide in the flexibility of veins and arteries, and subsequently increase blood flow. Flavanols are the main type of flavonoid found in cocao and has been linked to many antioxidant properties, such as, potential vascular health, increase of blood flow to the brain and heart, and decreasing chances of forming blood clots. A subcategory of the flavanols is epicatechin. Epicatechin helps increase the number of mitochondria the body produces, which is essentially the body’s “power house” for energy production and usage.
So, tying that all together, what does chocolate potentially do for us? Many things! The largest accumulation of evidence has been found in cardiovascular health. Scores of studies have collected favorable findings related to chocolate intake and heart health. One study found eating 1 to 2 servings of chocolate per week could potentially cut your risk of heart failure by one third. Another study showed consuming a square of dark chocolate per day helped lower blood pressure, which can decrease your chances of developing a heart attack or stroke by thirty nine percent. Lastly, a randomized trial study of 42 older men and women that were at high risk of developing heart disease, found consuming cocoa powder with skim milk everyday decreased levels of adhesion molecules in the circulation of the body. Why is this significant? Adhesion molecules cause white blood cells and other substances to stick to the walls of arteries, which is a marker for inflammation that could potentially trigger a heart attack or stroke. This particular study also found that cocoa powder helped increase levels of HDL, or as we know it, good cholesterol.
Chocolate, particularly kinds with a higher percentage of cocao, has been found to help with weight management, and surprisingly, even weight loss! Dark chocolate appears to be more filling, so you feel fuller faster and are less likely to crave sweet, salty, or fatty foods. Many scientists even believe chocolate is metabolized differently than most other foods. The calories in chocolate advance our metabolism functioning, essentially making the body work harder and causing chocolate to become a calorie neutral food. Meaning, you burn calories, speed up your metabolism, and possibly manage your blood sugars all simply by eating chocolate. Bringing back the flavanol epicatechin, which helps you produce more mitochondria, with more energy you burn more calories and prospectively lose weight without even changing your exercise routine or minimizing calorie intake.
What are other benefits of eating chocolate? It helps decrease the presence of stress hormones in the body. In one Finnish study done on pregnant women, those whom ate chocolate regularly during their pregnancy were able to handle stress better and gave birth to happier, more smiley babies. The flavonoids can also improve skin health, research found individuals consuming chocolate regularly took twice as long to develop reddening, the beginning stage of a sunburn, than those who do not. It is also suggested chocolate can boosts your brain power by amping up blood flow to key parts of the brain leading to short term improvements in performance and alertness for up to 2 to 3 hours. You bet there are long term benefits to periodic indulgences as well. Frequent chocolate-eaters have been found to score higher on cognitive tests.
So, what’s the smartest way to eat chocolate? You want to eat the type of chocolate that contains the most flavonoids, this way you reap the most out of the benefits of cocao. Any type of chocolate containing at least70% cocao will help accomplish this. Another way to look at it is, the higher amount of nonfat cocoa solid content in the chocolate bar will contain the most flavonoids. So, dark chocolate has the highest percentage of nonfat cocoa solid content, while white chocolate essentially holds zero percent nonfat cocoa solid content. Another thing, you can relax a little bit about all the fat in that candy bar. The fat in chocolate comes from cocoa butter, which is made up of oleic acid, stearic acid, and palmitic acid. Oleic acid is a heart-healthy monosaturated fat that is also a main component in olive oil. And although palmitic acid has a slight affect on blood sugars, stearic acid is neutral in that department. So essentially, you don’t have to feel so guilty about having a bit of chocolate every day.
Now, fear not chocolate-lovers! There are so many good things about chocolate in addition to the way it tastes, it makes it that much more irresistible. From cardiovascular benefits, aiding in weight loss, and helping make happier babies, this is one sweet indulgence that is also smart to eat!