Valentine’s Day is about love. And in this day and age, we tend to express our love through gifts. And the most popular gift on this day is chocolate.
But you don’t have to save chocolate just for Valentine’s Day – scientific studies have shown that a bite of dark chocolate (milk and white chocolate don’t count) a day could not only be good for your heart, but may also improve brain function, alleviate stress, and lower the risk of diabetes.
Dark chocolate is rich in and packed with nutrients, making this bittersweet treat a superfood favorite. It contains phytonutrients called flavonoids, which are plant chemicals that act as antioxidants and may play a role in cancer prevention, heart health, and weight loss. The cacao plant that chocolate is derived from also contains a compound called theobromine, which can help reduce inflammation and potentially lower blood pressure.
Your best bet is choosing a bar with 70 percent cacao or higher, since bars with lower percentages of cacao have more added sugar and unhealthy fats. Even though quality dark chocolate is a better choice than milk chocolate, it is still chocolate, meaning it’s high in calories and saturated fat. To avoid weight gain, you should not eat more than 1 ounce of dark chocolate per day.
Here are the good things about eating chocolate:
1. Dark Chocolate May Help Prevent Heart Disease and Lower the Risk of Stroke
One of the biggest benefits that researchers tout is the role dark chocolate may play in improving heart health. A meta-analysis of eight studies on the link between chocolate consumption and cardiovascular disease found that people who ate more chocolate per day had a lower risk of both heart disease and stroke.
2. It May Improve Cognition, Prevent Memory Loss, and Boost Your Mood
Research has shown chocolate stimulates neural activity in areas of the brain associated with pleasure and reward, which in turn decreases stress and improves your mood.
3. Dark Chocolate Could Improve Blood Sugar Levels and Reduce the Risk of Developing Diabetes
The flavonoids in dark chocolate were found to reduce oxidative stress, which scientists think is the primary cause of insulin resistance. By improving your body’s sensitivity to insulin, resistance is reduced, and in turn the risk of diseases like diabetes decrease.
4. Is Good for Your Gut and May Help With Weight Loss
Eating chocolate every day probably seems like the last way to lose weight, but research suggests dark chocolate may play a role in controlling appetite, which in turn could help with weight loss. Neuroscientist Will Clower, PhD, wrote a whole book on the subject called Eat Chocolate, Lose Weight, which describes how eating a bit of dark chocolate before or after meals triggers hormones that signal to the brain you’re full. Of course, eating more than the recommended amount per day can counteract any potential weight loss.
5. It Fights Free Radicals and May Play a Role in Cancer Prevention
Some studies have shown that people who eat many flavonoids or antioxidant-rich chocolate develop fewer cancers than those who don’t consume them. Of the many flavonoids in chocolate, two in particular, epicatechin and quercetin, are believed to be responsible for the cancer-fighting properties.
6. It’s Good for Your Skin (in More Ways Than One)
Dark chocolate is packed full of vitamins and minerals such as copper, iron, and magnesium, to name a few (that are also beneficial to your skin). Manganese, for example, supports the production of collagen, a protein that helps keep skin looking young and healthy. Other minerals, like calcium help repair and renew skin.
7. Dark Chocolate May Send Good Cholesterol up, Bad Cholesterol Down
Dark chocolate is also touted as a cholesterol-lowering food. Dark chocolate and unsweetened cocoa showed a significant drop in low-density lipoproteins (LDL), also known as “bad” cholesterol, which in high amounts can clog arteries. The cocoa butter in dark chocolate may also play a part in raising high-density lipoproteins (HDL), or “good” cholesterol. Cocoa butter contains oleic acid, which is a monounsaturated fat — the same fat you find in heart-healthy olive oil. However, unlike olive oil cocoa butter is also high in saturated fat, which in excess can be harmful to the heart, further emphasizing the need for portion control.
8. Chocolate Is Nutritious — and Delicious!
Dark chocolate contains a ton of nutrients. Of course, the darker the chocolate the better, but any 70 percent dark chocolate or higher contains antioxidants, fiber, potassium, calcium, copper, and magnesium. It also contains a good chunk of calories and fat, so be mindful of your daily intake. Each brand of chocolate is also processed differently; going organic is always best because it’s grown without the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Always check the ingredient list to make sure you’re consuming chocolate with fewer and more natural ingredients.