So I am a self-proclaimed chocolate addict lover. It’s my favourite sweet treat, guilty pleasure and has been known to mend a broken heart or two. But did you know that with the right chocolate, you could also take advantage of a wide variety of health benefits? That’s right chocolate lovers – cue the happy dance. In this post I’ll share the health benefits of cocoa, the superfood ingredient found in chocolate that’s responsible for it’s characteristic taste, and give you some pointers on how to select the best chocolate (keep in mind that your average convenience store candy bar is still loaded with not-good-for you sugars and additives…we only eat the good stuff here!)
Health benefits of cocoa:
- Lowering blood pressure: flavonoids, which are antioxidant compounds found in cocoa, have been shown to lower blood pressure by exerting a protective effect on the walls of blood vessels.
- Diabetes prevention: studies have shown that eating a small amount of dark chocolate daily can actually increase the body’s sensitivity to insulin. This is again due to the effect of the flavonoids in the cocoa that increase nitric oxide concentrations in the body, playing a role in insulin sensitivity.
- Curbing cravings: dark chocolate can be a good way to manage that pesky sweet tooth! Researchers at the University of Copenhagen have shown that dark chocolate is more filling and as a result may lessen cravings for other sweet and fatty foods.
- Stress relief: a recent Swiss study demonstrated that intake of dark chocolate could help to buffer the body’s metabolic reactions to stress.
Now, before you go running to your local convenience store to stock up on as many chocolate bars as you can carry, there are a few things you need to keep in mind. Due to the fact that cocoa on it’s own tastes very chalky, bitter, and frankly, not that great, most chocolate bars have added milk, butter, and sugar that makes them sweeter and richer. These ingredients can diminish the health benefits of cocoa. When selecting chocolate that’s going to satisfy your sweet tooth and your conscience, look for dark chocolate and make sure to grab a bar that has at least 70% cocoa in it. Be cautious of marketing, as chocolates labeled “dark” may not have very high concentrations of cocoa. The first ingredient on the label should be cocoa, chocolate, or cocoa liquor. If possible, choose an organic dark chocolate to ensure that the cocoa used in the chocolate bar is pesticide free. As an added bonus, most organic chocolate bars also use cocoa beans from fair trade plantations; ensuring cocoa farmers can make an honest living. So go ahead and (modestly) indulge!