Reasons Why You Should Eat More Chocolate, According to Science
Cocoa deserves a standing ovation. If not for the fact that it is absolutely delicious, then definitely because it also has health benefits. For a bean that humans have been using and consuming for centuries, it is time to dive into how we can enjoy this tasty treat and still live a healthy life.
So grab your chocolate bar and buckle up. Here are 8 reasons to eat more chocolate— backed by science of course.
Powerful Antioxidant Protection & Healthier Skin
Oxidation is a form of chemical damage that happens in our bodies which we have natural defenses against. However, if we experience oxidation faster than our ability to repair we will experience accelerated aging and we are then at increased risk of diseases.
Luckily polyphenols are plant compounds known to have a positive effect on our health. These plants can stoke our internal antioxidant systems which actively worlds against oxidants to repair damage. Cocoa is one of the richest sources of polyphenols in the world. Flavanols are a subcategory of polyphenols that are believed to be responsible for many of cocoa’s health benefits.
Research shows that the flavonols in cocoa may provide protection against sun damage. In one study, participants ate 20 grams of flavanol-rich dark chocolate daily for 3 months. Afterwhich they were subjected to UV light. The study found that the flavanol-rich group showed greater resilience to sunburn than the control group.
Chocolate is also known to help increase blood flow to the skin. This is likely due to its positive effects on the vasculature. It also seems to enhance skin texture, the subjective appearance of the skin, and hydration. One study found that 6 weeks of flavanol-rich chocolate consumption led to a reduction in wrinkles and the visible effects of sun damage on the skin.
Better Athletic Performance & Greater Vascular Function
In a small study, flavanol-rich dark chocolate consumption (40 grams per day for 14 days) increased cycling endurance in test subjects by 17% compared to those who ate flavanol-poor white chocolate. Those who consumed the dark chocolate also saw a reduction in the amount of oxygen used when cycling during a 2-minute sprint.
This is because dark chocolate increases nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide dilates blood vessels and reduces the amount of oxygen needed to complete a task. This in turn allows athletes to go further for longer periods of time.
Since chocolate has the ability to boost nitric oxide, consuming dark chocolate can acutely improve endothelial function and in turn, reduce blood pressure. The endothelium is the dynamic, one-cell-thick lining of the blood vessels that expand and constrict according to metabolic needs. Dysfunction is thought to be a predictor of cardiovascular risk as well as dementia.
However, if the chocolate bar consumed has a lot of sugar the beneficial effects of chocolate on the vascular system are blunted.
Improved Blood Lipids & Decreased Cognitive Aging
The hippocampus is the part of the brain that is responsible for memory. It is also one of the most vulnerable structures of the brain. It is susceptible to damage from chronic stress and Alzheimer’s Disease. The dentate gyrus is one of the most important parts of the hippocampus. It is a small region in the brain where adult neurogenesis (or the creation of new neurons) occurs.
It is normal when we age that our dentate gyrus can experience dysfunctions. But, studies have shown that dark chocolate can offer protection to the dentate gyrus. In a randomized control trial involving healthy, middle-aged adults, researchers found that cocoa flavanols reversed age-related memory decline in healthy older adults by improving the function of the dentate gyrus.
HDL is the “good” cholesterol that our bodies need. Low HDL is thought to be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease (though recent research is challenging this idea). Dark chocolate is a potent HDL booster. Cocoa flavanols might also protect your lipoproteins (both HDL and LDL) against oxidation. Oxidized lipids are extremely damaging to our blood vessels.
Higher Quality Metabolic Health & Improved Mental Acuity
In a placebo-controlled trial involving 90 adults with mild cognitive impairments (often considered pre-dementia) the adults who were given moderate- to high-flavanol cocoa supplements showed an improvement in their insulin sensitivity. Insulin sensitivity tells you how well your body creates energy from food and oxygen and is a marker of metabolic health. Insulin resistance can often lead to type 2 diabetes. Patients in this trial also showed improvements in cognitive function.
In that same study, the volunteers also saw significant improvements in memory tests. Long-term observational research where cognitively healthy people at chocolate at least once a week has also shown that those adults had improved cognitive performance on working memory, visual-spacial memory, and abstract reasoning tests that those who were observed who ate little to no chocolate.