Ahead of Mother’s Day this Sunday, families across the country are asking each other the same question: “What should we get Mom for Mother’s Day?”
There’s (literally) a sweet answer that checks every box on the wish list — and it’s inexpensive and easy to find.
Recent research says it’s good for moms, too.
Enter the humble chocolate. But not just any chocolate — dark chocolate.
Three studies that came out last year share impressive results about chocolate’s effects on the immune system, stress, and even vision.
In a study published in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology, a trio of researchers from the University of the Incarnate Word in Texas examined the effects of eating milk chocolate versus dark chocolate on different aspects of vision, including visual acuity (sharpness) and contrast sensitivity (ability to distinguish objects from their background).
Results of one of the tests revealed that participants improved their eyesight by 40 percent. A word of caution on the study: “The improvement is notable,” said Everyday Health, “but it’s also important to point out the small sample size of participants.”
Additionally, the results of two small-scale, preliminary studies from Loma Linda University in California are promising. The data represent the first human trials to explore the impact of dark chocolate on cognitive, endocrine and cardiovascular health.
Many people still discount chocolate, dark or otherwise, as unhealthy — these types will call it a “cheat treat.”
But this research suggests quite a number of health benefits to chocolate, even more than previously believed.
Dark chocolate that is at least 70 percent cacao and 30 percent organic cane sugar can:
- reduce stress
- reduce Inflammation
- improve memory
- improve immunities
- improve mood
“For years, we have looked at the influence of dark chocolate on neurological functions from the standpoint of sugar content — the more sugar, the happier we are,” Lee S. Berk, psychoneuroimmunology and food science researcher and principal investigator for the two studies, said in a release.
“This is the first time that we have looked at the impact of large amounts of cacao in doses as small as a regular-sized chocolate bar in humans over short or long periods of time, and are encouraged by the findings,” he continued. “These studies show us that the higher the concentration of cacao, the more positive the impact on cognition, memory, mood, immunity, and other beneficial effects.”
The secret may come down to flavonoids. Though chocolate is undoubtedly mouth-watering, the flavor isn’t what packs the healthy punch.
Flavonoids are phytonutrients — chemicals found in fruits and vegetables that give them their vivid colors. Flavonoids are also powerful antioxidants, with anti-inflammatory and immune system-boosting properties that have “known mechanisms beneficial for brain and cardiovascular health,” Loma Linda University Health News reported.
Richard Gilchrest, president and proprietor of The Fudge Shoppe in Flemington, New Jersey, knows a thing or two about chocolate. His 59-year-old family-operated shop was featured in 2015 on the Food Network show “Great American Food Finds.”
He pointed out that health benefits aren’t the only reason more folks are turning to dark chocolate.
“So many of our regular customers who have moved to dark chocolate do so for reasons associated with the flavor,” he told LifeZette. “There are many who have done so out of a desire to be more alert as to what they fuel their bodies with, but I believe there is [also] a heightened awareness in our society to flavor complexities,” he said.
Jake Porter, a retail associate at the shop, noted, “We already know that chocolate — specifically dark chocolate — has some significant health benefits when enjoyed with moderation. These studies actually suggest that the benefits to our overall well-being could be significantly more than we previously knew.”
Adam Gilchrest, marketing and production manager at The Fudge Shoppe, added, “We have seen a pretty substantial increase in [dark chocolate] sales over the last 10 years.”
He said that finding quality dark chocolate is relatively simple and somewhat subjective, based on personal taste. The seasoned chocolate expert suggests asking two questions when you go out shopping for dark chocolate this Mother’s Day.
“First, how simple and clean are the ingredients in this product? If you see a few chemical-sounding names you can’t pronounce or artificial flavors, that should be at least a yellow flag.”
“And second, what flavor profile fits you [or your mother]? Do you enjoy an aromatic dark? A smoky dark? Shop around. Try new things. When you find a brand that uses clean ingredients and makes you say, ‘Gadzooks!’ every time you pop a piece in your mouth — then you’ve found quality chocolate.”
Michele Blood is a Flemington, New Jersey-based freelance writer and a regular contributor to LifeZette.