Chocolate is one of the world’s oldest and most popular sweets. Made from the ground and roasted Theobroma cacao seeds, it’s the preferred treat for millions of people.
But many people view chocolate as nothing more than an empty-calorie food with no real nutritional value. While certain varieties of chocolate fall under this category, others can actually improve your health. To learn more about chocolate and it surprising health benefits, keep reading.
Dark, Milk and White Chocolate: What’s the Difference?
Before we reveal the health benefits of chocolate, let’s first discuss the different varieties of this delectable treat.
Milk chocolate lives up to its namesake by featuring a greater concentration of milk and dairy fat, making it creamier and sweeter than its dark counterpart. Dark chocolate typically contains 70% or more cocoa with little-to-no milk. Because of its high concentration of cocoa and low concentration of milk, dark chocolate is often bitter.
The third variety, white chocolate, doesn’t contain any cocoa solids. Rather, it’s made with cocoa butter, milk and sugar. Cocoa butter essentially gives white chocolate its distinct white color.
Which Chocolate Variety is the Best?
In terms of nutritional value, dark chocolate is the undisputed winner. Dark chocolate contains healthy fats in the form of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat, along with beneficial nutrients like calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, vitamin K, vitamin E, vitamin B, thiamine and riboflavin.
But the real health benefits of dark chocolate lies in its antioxidant content. Dark chocolate contains free radical-fighting antioxidants such as polyphenols and flavonoids. These antioxidants neutralize harmful compounds known as free radicals that could otherwise harm and destroy healthy cells, leading to disease or even cancer.
While milk and white chocolate contain some of these antioxidants, dark chocolate contains significantly higher concentrations of this beneficial nutrient. So if you’re looking to reap the benefits of chocolate, steer clear of milk chocolate and choose the dark variety instead.
Lowers Risk of Heart Disease
You might be surprised to learn that eating chocolate can lower your risk of heart disease. According to a study published in the journal Heart, men and women who consume at least 3.5 ounces of chocolate daily were less likely to die from heart disease-related illness. Being that heart disease kills more people in the United States than any other disease or illness, this is big news.
For the study, researchers in the U.K. followed some 21,000 middle-aged men and women for 11 years, paying close attention to their diet and health. Researchers found that participants who consumed the most chocolate had a 12% risk of developing heart disease throughout the study. In comparison, participants who didn’t consume any chocolate had a 17.4% risk of developing heart disease. So, consuming chocolate could lower your risk of heart disease by 3.6%, assuming this data is correct.
Helps with Weight Management
Contrary to popular belief, eating chocolate may not contribute to weight gain. Instead, it can actually help you lose weight.
According to a study published in the International Archives of Medicine, people who consumed 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate (81% cocoa content) per day for three weeks lost 10% more weight than the control group who did not consume chocolate. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll instantly lose weight by eating dark chocolate. However, there’s strong evidence indicating that it can certainly help individuals maintain a healthy weight.
Protects Against Alzheimer’s
There’s even evidence suggesting that chocolate can protect the brain from Alzheimer’s disease. The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) reports that 5.1 million Americans may have this chronic neurodegenerative disease. Alzheimer’s is an irreversible disease that progressively worsens over time. And while there’s no known cure for this disease, medical researchers have discovered ways to lower a person’s risk.
Researchers from Harvard Medical School found that people who drank two cups of hot chocolate per day had improved memory and blood flow to the brain, along with a phenomenon known as “neurovascular coupling.” Neurovascular coupling occurs when blood flow to the brain changes due to brain activity. Medical experts believe that increased neurovascular coupling can protect individuals from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
It’s important to note, however, that the improved memory and neurovascular coupling benefits cited in this study were only found in people who consumed hot cocoa made from dark chocolate, not milk chocolate.
Protects Against Sunburn
No, that’s not a typo: eating chocolate may protect your skin from sunburn. London researchers found that people who consumed 20 grams of cocoa-rich chocolate (e.g. dark chocolate) every day for 3 months could withstand twice the exposure to UVB before developing sunburn when compared to their counterparts who consume little-to-no chocolate.
Of course, wearing a high-SPF sunscreen lotion is still the most effective method for preventing sunburn. When staying outdoors for 20 minutes or longer, apply sunscreen lotion to your exposed skin. You can add an additional layer of protection, however, by consuming more dark chocolate in your diet.
There’s a reason why chocolate is classified as a “comfort” food: it comforts you by reducing stress and anxiety. A study published in the journal Proteome Research found that eating 1.4 ounces of dark chocolate daily for a minimum of two weeks lowered levels of the stress hormone cortisol. A separate report published in Psychology Today suggests that women who consume chocolate during pregnancy are more likely to give birth to healthy, stress-free babies.
To learn more about the health benefits of dark chocolate and other foods, contact us today.