It sounds too good to be true: Chocolate may actually be good for you. While gorging on chocolate bars is going to do you much more harm than good, eating moderate amounts of unsweetened dark chocolate has a number of health benefits, including boosting brainpower and enhancing the health of arteries. Unsweetened chocolate is a guilt-free treat with overall health benefits.
Antioxidants shield your body from the damage caused from harmful molecules called free radicals. The primary sources of antioxidants in most people's diets are fruits, vegetables and whole grains. However, chocolate is an excellent supplementary source of a class of antioxidant known as flavanols, which come from the cocoa beans used to make chocolate. Flavanols can reduce high blood pressure, decrease cholesterol and boost circulation.
Maintain Healthy Blood Pressure
More than 50,000 adults in the United States died from complications of high blood pressure in 2009, the American Heart Association reports. Maintaining a healthy body weight, staying physically active and limiting salt intake can help keep blood pressure within a healthy range. Additionally, eating dark chocolate may also reduce blood pressure, reports Davide Grassi of the University of L'Aquila. In research published in the March 2005 issue of the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition," Grassi provided research subjects with 100 grams of dark chocolate for 15 days. At the end of the 15 days, those who ate the dark chocolate had lower blood pressure levels than the control group. Grassi notes that dark chocolate's high concentration of flavanols is largely responsible for this blood pressure lowering effect.
The flavonols in dark chocolate help protect your arteries from plaque formation by making them more flexible and resistant to plaque buildup. Plaque formation in the arteries is the underlying cause of cardiovascular disease. According to a study by I. Andujar et al., published in the October 24,2012 issue of "Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity," unsweetened cocoa inhibits plaque formation. Additionally, chocolate limits blood clotting, reducing the risk of a dangerous clot forming in the arteries.
Eating chocolate can temporarily boost mental performance and memory. Also reported in Andujar's study, flavonoids in cocoa result in changes in blood flow to the brain, increasing the brain's effectiveness.
- UAB Health: Chocolate (health benefits); 2010
- Cleveland Clinic: Heart and Vascular Health & Prevention; 2010
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Short-term administration of dark chocolate is followed by a significant increase in insulin sensitivity and a decrease in blood pressure in healthy persons; Davide Grassi, et al; 2005
- American Heart Association: High Blood Pressure Statistics; Feb. 2011
- Science Daily: Boosting Brain Power -- With Chocolate; Feb. 2007
- Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity: Cocoa Polyphenols and Their Potential Benefits for Human Health