Get Your Chocolate Fix!

benefits_of_chocolate

Who doesn’t love chocolate? The dark, sweet, creamy richness is a daily part of many of our lives. But do you know how healthy chocolate is for us? It’s rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, and has numerous physical and mental health benefits. Most nutrition experts agree that these benefits of chocolate are most notable in dark chocolate.

Dark chocolate is high in cocoa and contains:

  • Protein, Fiber, & Healthy Fats
  • Iron, Calcium, Magnesium, & Zinc
  • Sulfur, Copper, Potassium, & Manganese
  • Vitamins A, C, & E and B Vitamins

Gut-Friendly Goodness

Chocolate is good for the gut, acting as a prebiotic in the digestive system. Those who drank a high-flavanol cocoa powder drink for 4 weeks increased the levels of lactobacilli and bifidobacteria, beneficial microflora linked to a healthy gastrointestinal system. Here are a couple chocolate drink recipes we love:

Chocolate: An Antioxidant Powerhouse

The Chemistry Central Journal published a study comparing cocoa powder to fruit powders such as blueberry, pomegranate, and cranberry, with results showing cocoa powder to have more flavanols and a higher ORAC value than these super fruits. The catechins, polyphenols, and flavanols in dark chocolate are powerful antioxidants with health benefits ranging from repairing tissue damage and reducing inflammation to counteracting the effects of aging and scavenging free radicals. Double up on the antioxidants by combining chocolate with fresh berries in these recipes:

Heart-Healthy Cocoa

Chocolate has many beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system. It can improve blood flow and lower blood pressure and well as balance cholesterol levels, raising HDL and lowering LDL cholesterol. One study found that eating chocolate at least five times a week lowered the risk of cardiovascular disease by a whopping 57%, while another discovered that over 15 years, men who consumed the highest amount of cocoa were 50% less likely to die of heart-related conditions. Protect your heart with these superfood chocolate treat recipes:

Brain Food

There are even some studies indicating that chocolate can improve your brain function. Eating chocolate can allow better blood flow to the brain and boost performance and memory. One reason for this short-term effect is that chocolate contains theobromine, a compound similar to caffeine. I frequently indulge in a piece or two of chocolate when I am confronted with an intense work project or a challenging household undertaking, and I immediately experience an increased ability to focus, think clearly, and concentrate on the task at hand. Research certainly supports these positive effects. The antioxidants and minerals in chocolate can lead to long-term effects on the brain too; among the elderly who suffer from mild cognitive impairment, for example, regular chocolate consumption appears to improve cognitive functioning and verbal fluency. Power up with these energizing chocolate recipes:

Chocolate Chip Protein Energy Balls
Chocolate Covered Bacon

Chocolate Therapy

Do you crave chocolate when you are upset, moody, tired, or stressed? In addition to helping general brain function, chocolate triggers the release of serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins. These neurotransmitters have been found to lead to feelings of wellbeing and happiness and reduce stress and pain. Other compounds in chocolate help the mind and body to relax, while simultaneously boosting energy and alertness. Here are some healthy chocolate comfort food recipes for those stressful days:

A Chocolate a Day Keeps the Pounds Away?

Research submitted to Nutrition & Diabetes demonstrated that those who ate dark chocolate before a meal consumed significantly less during the meal, even after accounting for the calories in the chocolate. These participants felt less hungry and more satisfied after eating the chocolate, and were less likely to crave sweet or fatty foods. Another study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that frequent chocolate consumption was linked to lower BMI. Additional studies have noted that dark chocolate lowers insulin resistance. An improved insulin sensitivity like this is associated with healthy weight maintenance as well as reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. Even Dr. Oz’s Total 10 Rapid Weight Loss Plan includes a couple of chocolate recipes:

Go Ahead & Indulge!

Should you eat chocolate with every meal? Probably not, but it can definitely be part of a healthy diet! Unfortunately, a chocolate candy bar low in cocoa, over-processed, and loaded with calories, refined sugar, and unhealthy fats offers few, if any, of these wonderful benefits. Look instead for dark chocolate bars made with raw, organic chocolate and at least 70-85% cocoa… or try making your own healthy cocoa treat like this decadent Raw Chocolate Walnut Fudge made with raw cacao, natural sweetener, and coconut oil.

By Ali Wetherbee

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