“Did you know that cocoa comes from a plant?” my ten-year-old asked me last night. “So technically...” she continued, “Chocolate is a vegetable and veggies are good for us!” While her logic may be flawed when it comes to conventional chocolate, she is correct in one respect: organic dark chocolate can be good for us!
So is chocolate actually healthy? If you need some solid research to help you avoid the guilt that comes with indulging in one-to-many Valentine’s chocolates, here are my top 10 reasons to eat dark chocolate, sourced mostly from my friends at the American Botanical Council (I think there are a few fellow chocoholics over there!).
1. Associated with lower blood pressure:
As the go-to sweet treat for Valentine’s Day, it’s no wonder cocoa is a friend to your heart. Struggling with hypertension? Cocoa and nice hot cup of tea may be just what you need! A 2007 analysis found that “the consumption of tea (Camellia sinensis) and cocoa (Theobroma cacao) has been associated with lower incidences of cardiovascular events, and both have been reported to have hypotensive and cardioprotective properties.”
It’s also important to note that the benefit is dose dependent. In this 2012 study, the authors conclude that a dose of 25-30 g of high-flavanol cocoa should lower SBP by -4.1 mmHg and DBP by -2.0 mmHg. But remember: everything in moderation!
2. A powerful antioxidant:
If you enjoyed some red wine and organic dark chocolate with your Valentine last Friday, then you got a heaping helping of antioxidants! Research has found that red wind and cocoa are packed with “naturally occurring phenolic phytochemicals, compounds that have strong antioxidant capacities.” Antioxidants are extremely important for cleansing the body of harmful free radicals. You may wonder: What are free radicals? “Free radicals are believed to cause degenerative diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and cerebrovascular disease, through a variety of mechanisms, and antioxidants such as these phenolic compounds may delay or prevent their onset.”
3. Supports healthy endothelial function:
A 2008 trial found that “dark chocolate (Theobroma cacao) consumption has been shown to have cardiovascular health benefits, which are attributed to the ability of the flavonoids in chocolate to improve endothelial function by activating the nitric oxide synthase system, providing antioxidant effects, and inhibiting platelet activation and aggregation.” More and more research is showing that dark chocolate is a heart-healthy snack. I had the “pleasure” of having an endothelial function test as part of a study I’m in (I really do love research!)—endothelial response time is considered a potentially excellent marker for future heart health and longevity!
4. Supports healthy cholesterol levels:
If you’ve never heard the term “phytosterols,” it’s one you should add to your holistic health glossary. Phytosterols are becoming widely studied based on their ability to balance cholesterol levels. And can you guess what food is loaded with phytosterols and heart-healthy flavanols? That’s right…cocoa! “Based on the results of this  trial, moderate intakes of flavanols and phytosterols from a cocoa snack bar appear to lower plasma total and LDL cholesterol levels in persons with hypercholesterolemia.”
5. Supports heart health:
There’s a lot of talk about heart disease these days, and for good reason. According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., killing approximately 600,000 people every year. That’s 1 out of 4 deaths caused by heart disease. Along with focusing on holistic nutrition, eating some cocoa is one easy way you can be good to your heart! A 2006 controlled study found that “[e]vidence from population-based studies suggests that a high dietary intake of flavonoids [found in cocoa] may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.” Along with warming your heart, it looks like that box of Valentine’s Day dark chocolate is good for your ticker, too!
6. Supports a healthy weight:
Shocking but true! According to new research, cocoa flavonols—along with healthy exercise—may help with insulin resistance and help avoid muscle wasting. I would be quite happy to take part in that study!
7. Promotes a healthy mood:
Who doesn't love a good mood boost? Chocolate lovers are well acquainted with that feeling of joy after one or two pieces of luscious dark chocolate, and now there’s science to back up this great health benefit! One study showed seratonin levels were higher with regular chocolate consumption. There was also increased calmness and contentedness after one month of supplementation. I would recommend 500-mg of cocoa polyphenols once a day for 30 days. If you take your cocoa polyphenols in chocolate form, compensate for the calories somewhere else or you might end up fat and happy (like me!).
8. Aids in cognitive function:
Yes, cocoa is a friend to your heart and mind! According to a 2012 study, flavonols may help prevent cognitive decline. The research is pretty astounding: “Flavanols, such as those found in cocoa, have been shown to reverse age-related cognitive decline by increasing the number and strength of connections between neurons, reducing neuronal loss attributed to neurodegenerative processes, and interacting with the cellular and molecular architecture of the brain responsible for memory.”
9. Has an effect on inflammation:
Cocoa flavonols may lower C-REactive Protein levels! And according to new research, cocoa flavonols “do affect selected markers of one or more measures of oxidative stress, inflammation or hemostasis in obese adults at risk for insulin resistance.”
10. Because you love it!
Let’s face it…we’re not perfect. If you’re trying to maintain a healthy holistic diet and lifestyle, it’s important to know that it’s all right to treat yourself on occasion. Cutting yourself off completely from something you love puts you at a higher risk for binge eating, and that kind of guilt is significantly worse than nibbling on a few chocolates on Friday night. Holistic health is all about balance and moderation!
So my daughter is right; chocolate is good for us! However, this doesn’t mean we should pig-out on those processed and preservative filled chocolate. Make sure you’re eating the right chocolate to reap all the wonderful health benefits of cocoa (pictured right). Here are my tips for buying the good stuff!
Top 3 tips for choosing chocolate:
- Choose only 70% cocoa or more
- Choose fair trade…no one wants a guilt trip with their chocolate!
- Read the label: the fewer ingredients, the better
Did you know Indonesia is the third largest producers of cocoa beans in the world? Why not see cacao trees growing in their natural environment during our 2014 Study Abroad program in Indonesia and Bali? Click the button below to find out more!
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent disease. This article has not been reviewed by the FDA. Always consult with your primary care physician or naturopathic doctor before making any significant changes to your health and wellness routine.
Are you a chocoholic? Tell me why you love cocoa in the comments!
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