Is dark chocolate healthy?
In the past, chocolate has been considered an indulgence without benefits beyond pleasing our taste buds. Recent evidence, however, has shown that there may be significant health benefits to eating chocolate. The key to receiving these health benefits appears to be the type and amount of chocolate being consumed.
- The greatest health benefit of consuming chocolate appears to be its ability to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. In their Nutrition Evidence Library , the U.S. Department of Agriculture states that “moderate evidence suggests that modest consumption of dark chocolate or cocoa is associated with health benefits in the form of reduced cardiovascular disease risk.” The ways that dark chocolate could affect the risk of cardiovascular disease include:
- Antioxidants in chocolate prevent LDL cholesterol from becoming oxidized, the process that turns it into “bad” cholesterol.
- Studies from several countries have found that dark chocolate can lower blood pressure. The effect on blood pressure, however, is modest and wears off unless chocolate is eaten on a regular basis.
- Dark chocolate reduces the activation of platelets, a step in the formation of blood clots. Most strokes and heart attacks occur after clots form in blood vessels.
- Flavonoids in dark chocolate appear to reduce inflammation and plaque formation in the bloodstream that can block an artery, leading to a heart attack or stroke.
- Dark chocolate also appears to help the body use insulin more efficiently in controlling blood sugar. Insulin resistance, a condition in which the body doesn’t use insulin effectively, is associated with type 2 diabetes. By improving insulin sensitivity, eating dark chocolate could delay or prevent the onset of diabetes and pre-diabetes in certain individuals.
- Cocoa and dark chocolate may also help improve brain function. Researchers at Harvard Medical School found that older adults who drank two cups of cocoa a day had improved blood flow to parts of their brain involved with memory and thinking. Dark chocolate may also improve mood and pleasure by boosting serotonin and endorphin levels in the brain.
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