In light of World Chocolate Day we wanted to give credit where credits due!
Chocolate can sometimes get a bad rep. It’s commonly referred to as a ‘guilty pleasure’ and there appears to be a common misconception that eating indulgent food that tastes good must be terrible for your overall health. However, as we hope you are aware by now. Nutrition doesn’t have to be black and white. As cliché as it may sound… it’s all about #balance.
It’s not rocket science to know that consuming a family pack of chocolate on the regular isn’t the smartest plan, although a little bit of chocolate here and there may not be quite so terrible after all! Let us explain…Chocolate comes in all shapes, sizes and with many fillings. So whilst a crème egg might not be your best friend, a few squares of dark chocolate has actually been associated with some health benefits.
So what’s dark chocolate got that milk chocolate hasn’t? Well to start with milk chocolate is often higher in refined sugar, additives and saturated fats and as a result it can often lure you into consuming way more than you originally had planned or wanted. On the other hand dark chocolate is richer, lower in refined sugar and additives meaning that it’s actually harder to over consume as it’s slightly more bitter and richer in taste.
Aside from the fact it’s not loaded with the same ingredients as milk chocolate it’s actually also got some health benefits. It’s at this point you’re likely wondering what they are…
Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease
The key component in chocolate is cocoa which is rich in flavanols (a natural chemical found in plants). Flavanols have been found to help increase the elasticity of blood vessels which stimulates vasodilation (this is the widening of blood vessels), improves blood flow and consequently helps to reduce blood pressure. This can prove beneficial in reducing risks associated with cardiovascular disease.
Chocolate contains an amino acid known as tryptophan which is required for the production of serotonin (also known as the happy hormone). It’s no wonder you feel a little bit happier with every bite!
Cocoa contains a combination of caffeine and theobromine (a natural chemical compound) and when combined caffeine and theobromine block the uptake of adenosine. Adenosine is a neurotransmitter which is released slowly throughout the day and contributes to sleepiness. When adenosine uptake is blocked, tiredness is delayed and alertness is increased.
Improved cognitive function
Some studies have suggested that chocolate has been associated with a lower risk in cognitive decline. However, these studies are correlational which makes it difficult to conclude that chocolate will have a direct impact on cognitive function but it’s still an interesting and promising theory! This may also be due to the role of caffeine and theobromine and their effects on alertness as mentioned above.
Improve cholesterol profile
Surprisingly chocolate has been found to reduce oxidation of low-density lipoproteins (LDL) these are the types of fat droplets in the blood which can contribute to atherosclerosis (the build-up of plaque in the arteries which over time can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease). It has also shown to increase HDL (the good cholesterol). Higher levels of HDL are beneficial to your total cholesterol profile.
Whilst all of these factors sound great and there certainly is some benefit to eating small amounts of dark chocolate the key is moderation. Opt for high quality dark chocolate where possible and enjoy it in moderation!
Keen, C. L., Holt, R. R., Oteiza, P. I., Fraga, C. G., & Schmitz, H. H. (2005). Cocoa antioxidants and cardiovascular health–. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 81(1), 298S-303S.
Martínez-Pinilla, E., Oñatibia-Astibia, A., & Franco, R. (2015). The relevance of theobromine for the beneficial effects of cocoa consumption. Frontiers in pharmacology, 6, 30.
Moreira, A., Diógenes, M. J., de Mendonça, A., Lunet, N., & Barros, H. (2016). Chocolate consumption is associated with a lower risk of cognitive decline. Journal of Alzheimer's disease, 53(1), 85-93.