Growing evidence shows chocolate can be a healthy food. Chocolate is commonly enjoyed as a comfort food but more research proves it offers health benefits. That could make you feel less guilty for turning to this delightfully decadent food.
Here are seven health benefits linked to consuming dark chocolate.
1. It offers important nutrients
Dark chocolate with between 70 and 85 percent cocoa is packed with fiber, manganese, magnesium, iron, and several other minerals. However, despite its nutritional value, dark chocolate may be high in sugar and calories, depending on the brand. The higher the cocoa percentage, the higher amount of nutrients your chocolate contains, so look for dark chocolate containing at least 70 percent cocoa, and choose one that’s low in sugar.
2. It’s loaded with antioxidants
Raw, unprocessed cocoa beans contain more antioxidants than most other foods — making dark chocolate a powerful cancer-fighting tool. Polyphenols, flavonols, and catechins are just some antioxidants found in dark chocolate. The antioxidants in cocoa have even been proven more powerful than those found in cancer-fighting fruits such as cranberries and blueberries.
3. It improves blood flow and circulation
Flavanols in dark chocolate help relax the arteries to promote better blood flow and circulation. As a result, those who consume dark chocolate may benefit from reduced blood pressure and a lower risk for cardiovascular problems. The compounds in dark chocolate also help fight bad cholesterol — further reducing the risk for heart disease.
4. It’s great for your skin
Improved blood flow due to flavonols can accelerate the rate at which your skin repairs itself, and lend to smoother, plumper skin and a rejuvenated appearance. Studies even show that the flavonols help protect your skin against sun damage.
5. It improves brain function
Cocoa contains caffeine and theobromine — natural stimulants that increase alertness and energy. These stimulants can help ward off brain conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and improve cognition in older adults suffering from mental impairment. Increased blood flow from flavonols also helps boost overall brain health.
6. It helps maintain oral health
Chocolate may increase the risk for cavities and gum disease — but only chocolates that contain lots of sugar and other additives. Cocoa bean husks actually contain antibacterial compounds that help prevent plaque and cavities. Studies have shown that cocoa-based mouthwash products help reduce plaque by as much as 50 percent, even in those who haven’t brushed their teeth in several days.
7. It may reduce anxiety
Have you ever turned to dark chocolate at times of stress or anxiety, or when you’re having a bad day? Consuming as little as one ounce of dark chocolate per day can reduce cortisol — a hormone brought on by stress. Research shows that those who eat small amounts of dark chocolate consistently report feeling more calm and less anxious on a daily basis.
When buying dark chocolate, stick to products that contain a minimum of 70 percent cocoa, and that contain as little sugar and preservatives as possible. Dark chocolate only offers health benefits when in its purest form. The higher the cocoa percentage, the more bitter the taste, so try pairing your dark chocolate with strawberries and other sweet fruits that enhance its natural flavor.
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Medically reviewed by Jay J. Garcia, MD on October 27, 2017