For many, classifying chocolate as “healthy” would be a dream come true! Although it is not there yet, chocolate’s reputation is on the rise with a growing number of studies suggesting it can be a heart-healthy choice.
Not only does dark chocolate, with high concentrations of cacao (minimum 70%), appear to reduce risk factors for heart disease, it can also have positive effects on stress levels, inflammation, mood, memory and immunity according to recent studies. Many of these positive effects result from plant nutrients called flavonols, found in cocoa beans. More prevalent in dark chocolate than in milk chocolate, flavonols have antioxidant effects in the body that reduce cell damage implicated in heart disease and also help lower blood pressure and improve vascular function.
One study revealed dark chocolate influenced gene activity, increased anti-inflammatory agents and increased infection-fighting cells. Further research examined brain activity after dark chocolate consumption and suggested the treat could positively impact brain function, such as cognitive function and creativity, after as little as two hours post-consumption.
On the other hand, it is important to understand most commercial chocolate is highly processed, reducing the amount of flavonols and adding ingredients that increase fat, sugar and calories. This in turn can contribute to weight gain, a risk factor for high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.
So, the next time you look to satisfy your craving, choose cocoa powder or dark chocolate. Cocoa itself, unlike chocolate, is low in sugar and fat while offering potential health benefits and rich chocolatey flavour. You can add cocoa to your milk, yogurt or a bowl of oats as a “healthy” treat.