The chocolate you love is healthier than you might think.
Chocolate can be surprisingly good for your heart, as well as the rest of your body and your mood.
Whether you curl up with a hot cup of cocoa after hitting the slopes or make a decadent dessert to share with someone you love, chocolate can be a powerfully healthy part of eating well.
When choosing your chocolate, keep in mind that not all chocolate is created equal.
Dark chocolate is more nutritious than milk chocolate or white chocolate.
EvergreenHealth nutritionist Marcy Dorsey, RD, recommends choosing chocolate that is at least 60-70% cacao with few added sugars or sugary ingredients like caramel.
She suggests having a small piece of dark chocolate, a two-inch square or approximately one ounce, a few times a week.
Marcy stressed that moderation is the key to getting the health benefits from chocolate without negative effects of consuming excess sugars.
“Choose small amounts of high-quality dark chocolate,” she advises. “Get fair trade, organic dark chocolate if you can, and stay away from chocolate loaded with sugar and poor quality fats like hydrogenated palm oil.”
Cocoa contains many compounds that help protect your health.
Flavonoids are antioxidants that lead to many of chocolate’s health benefits. They decrease inflammation, increase blood flow, and improve the flexibility of your veins and arteries. Dark chocolate has twice the amount of flavonoids of milk chocolate.
Chocolate also contains the antioxidant epicatechin, which protects nerve cells from damage, and resveratrol (also found in red wine), which protects the nervous system.
Chocolate’s positive effects on health include:
Heart health – Flavonoids positively affect your heart health by lowering blood pressure, improving blood flow to the heart and brain, and improving blood clotting.
Multiple studies have shown that eating chocolate regularly could cut your risk of heart disease or heart failure by one third.
Stroke – The antioxidant flavonoids in chocolate improve blood flow, similar to aspirin, thereby decreasing the risk of stroke.
Brain health – Flavonoids in chocolate are thought to improve circulation, including blood flow to the brain, which could help slow brain decline as people age.
Skin – Flavonoids help protect the skin against UV rays. Today, many beauty products contain chocolate.
Coughs – Theobromine in chocolate has been found to be more effective at relieving a persistent cough than the drug codeine. Theobromine seems to suppress nerve activity, halting the cough reflex.
Mood – Chocolate contains phenethylamine, which triggers the release of endorphins, giving you a feeling similar to falling in love.
Weight management –The fiber in dark chocolate is satisfying and can actually keep you full, so you’ll eat less. However, Marcy cautions that chocolate should not be considered a “diet food.”
Workout recovery – Chocolate milk is an excellent post-workout recovery drink for high-endurance athletes because it contains an ideal mix of protein and carbohydrates to help muscles refuel while it rehydrates the body.
Does all this talk of chocolate have your mouth watering? Try one of our sweet or savory recipes, below.
Visit our Healthiest Best Foods homepage for more great ideas to get you and your family eating healthier.