Chocolate has a long way to go before being considered as healthy or as nutrient-rich as fruits and vegetables, but researchers have found several health benefits of eating chocolate.
The Benefits of Eating Chocolate: Flavonoids to the Rescue
Many plant-based foods are rich in antioxidants known as flavonoids and cocoa beans are no exception.
Scientists believe antioxidants help protect our cells from damage, and the flavonoids in chocolate can also help lower blood pressure, improve blood flow, increase blood’s ability to clot and lower cholesterol. The specific type of flavonoids found in chocolate are called flavanols.
Not That Bad: The Fats in Chocolate
Chocolate has fat in it, but this fat comes from cocoa butter which contains oleic, stearic and palmitic acids. Oleic acid is a monounsaturated fat which helps reduce bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol in the blood and may be tied to lower breast cancer risk.
Stearic acid may have a neutral effect on cholesterol, and while palmitic acid does negatively impact cholesterol levels, it’s only one-third of the fat involved in chocolate.
Some Chocolate is Healthy, But Buyer Beware
The more chocolate is processed, the less flavonoids remain, and most commercially available chocolate products are highly-processed. In the making of milk chocolate and other sweet varieties, flavonoids are lost, while milk and sugars are added.
For the healthiest chocolate options, stick with dark chocolate and cocoa powder that isn’t a product of Dutch processing, which uses an alkali to neutralize chocolate’s natural acidity. Many dark chocolates have added flavors like caramel that can pack on extra calories, so aim for the purest form of chocolate available.
Little-Known Benefits to Eating Chocolate
Chocolate, in addition to helpful antioxidants and good fats, contain a number of other healthy ingredients that may offer many health benefits.
These benefits include:
• Easing Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: English researchers found that dark chocolate containing 85 percent cocoa helped participants in a study feel less fatigued.
• Fighting cavities: While chocolate can’t replace your tooth-brushing regimen, a compound called theobromine in chocolate may help harden tooth enamel and reduce the presence of cavities.
• Making you smarter: Flavonoids in chocolate help increase blood flow in the brain, thus aiding the creation of new blood vessels and brain cells. The processes of making chocolate could in fact help older adults perform better cognitively.