How Sweet It Is
Dark chocolate's surprisingly big benefits
People who crave a bite of dark chocolate now and then don’t just have a sweet tooth. They’re actually on to something smart.
“When eaten in moderation, flavonoid-rich chocolate can be associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease,” explained Randi Luckman, a nutritionist and health coach in the New York area.
Today the word “superfood,” so casually thrown around, actually refers to a nutritional powerhouse that contains high levels of critical vitamins and minerals. Think blueberries, nuts, kale, onions — all of these are very good for the body. Superfoods also contribute antioxidants that protect the body from cell damage and help prevent disease.
When it comes to foods that pack in many important benefits for busy moms (and everyone else), dark chocolate is a very good choice.
“Chocolate that is minimally processed and has the highest cocoa content (meaning the darkest chocolate) has the highest level of flavonoids, which is the phytochemical found in the cacao bean. So with dark chocolate, eating as little as 30 calories per day can have a moderate effect,” said Luckman.
When dark chocolate is part of an overall healthy diet, it can help improve heart health, reduce LDL ("bad") cholesterol and blood pressure, and increase blood flow to the brain. It also may improve blood sugar and insulin sensitivity, which could reduce diabetes risk.
The more cocoa a chocolate contains, the richer the chocolate's health-promoting content.
Here are other must-know facts about delicious and rich dark chocolate, as shared by Luckman and others:
- The high antioxidant levels make it a perfect indulgence, since the high flavonoid content in chocolate has been shown to improve blood flow and improve memory.
- Eating chocolate instantly boosts production of phenylethylamine, a chemical that directly affects the brain's pleasure center, which makes people feel calm and satisfied.
- Packages labeled with "percent cacao" are the ones to examine. That refers to the percentage of cacao bean solids present in the bar. "There is an inverse relationship between the percentage of cacao in a bar and the amount of sugar," explained Luckman. "So a 75 percent cacao bar has 25 percent sugar."
- Dark chocolate can also reduce insulin resistance, which is a risk factor for diseases like heart disease and diabetes.
- The bioactive compounds in dark chocolate may be great for the skin. The flavonols can protect against sun-induced damage, improve blood flow to the skin, and aid in hydration and smoothness.
- While dark chocolate is rich and delicious, be sure not to overindulge, as it is loaded with calories. Some experts recommend just a small square or two after a meal, when you can really savor and enjoy this sweet, smart treat. Usually that amount is enough to satisfy and provide all the delicious benefits.