Why You Should Eat More Chocolate (yes, you read that right)
by Catherine Morris | April 13, 2021, updated 4 months ago
Decadent, delicious and healthy. Yep, chocolate is good for you. So stop shaming yourself for indulging and get the facts on this sweet superfood.
Antioxidant Rich Goodness
Humans have been enjoying chocolate since 460AD, but the cocoa bean wasn't always known as candy or comfort food. Its early use was mainly medicinal with traditional healers using it for digestive ailments, and as a mental and physical stimulant.
Today chocolate is known as both a treat and a tonic. Providing you're eating the right sort of cocoa, it can be a great addition to your diet as a way of staying healthy as you age.
Want antioxidants? Ditch that apple and eat chocolate. Research shows cocoa contains more antioxidants (known as flavonoids) than many fruits. It's also a good source of magnesium, potassium and calcium.
Eat a lot of chocolate and you could slash your risk of heart disease by a third. It sounds too good to be true, but the antioxidants in chocolate are actually protective—and not just for your heart, but many other organs and bodily systems.
The message from the scientific community is clear—eat chocolate, live better. Chowing on cacao can:
- Lower your risk of stroke
- Reduce arterial stiffness
- Treat liver disease
- Help you lose weight
- Combat hypertension
- Boost your performance at the gym
- Potentially halt the spread of cancer cells
- Improve memory and thinking in aging brains
There's a reason we feel better after eating chocolate, and it's not just down to the sugar rush. Cocoa increases blood flow to the brain, which helps our thinking, mood, and concentration.
Fed up with fatigue? If you regularly experience the mid-day slump, it's time to treat yourself. Research shows a mid-afternoon snack of dark chocolate can help by increasing alertness and focus.
It'll also improve your mood. There's a reason chocoholics are happier—unsurprisingly, people who eat chocolate regularly are less likely to be depressed.
For seniors, chocolate's a tasty way to limit the risk of developing neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's disease, dementia and Parkinson's disease.
Your gut on chocolate
The answer (of course) lies in your gut.
Your gut is a bustling community of bacteria that are hard at work converting the food you eat into fuel.
This thriving microbiome is the foundation of our health and requires a finely-tuned balance of both 'good' and 'bad' bacteria. Too many bad bacteria and you might experience bloating, constipation, gas or cramping. Feed your good bacteria and they'll keep everything in check and running smoothly.
Our good gut bacteria love chocolate as much as we do. Snack on a chocolate bar and those busy microbes devour the chocolate and ferment it into anti-inflammatory compounds.
Researchers believe the effects may be even greater if you eat your chocolate with some prebiotics. While probiotics are live microorganisms that add to the population of good bugs in our gut, prebiotics are carbohydrates that feed those good bacteria so getting more of them in your diet can contribute to a healthy microbiome.
Prebiotics are found in high-fibre fruits and vegetables so next time you reach for chocolate, have some bananas or berries on the side.
Be Choosy About Your Chocolate
Not all chocolate bars are created equal. The more processed your chocolate, the weaker its antioxidant effects so it pays to get the good stuff. That means avoiding additives like sneaky sugars and unhealthy fats, buying organic where possible, and choosing dark over white or milk chocolates.
Given that the healthy properties of chocolate come from its cocoa/cacao content, it's no surprise that the darker the chocolate, the better it is for your body.
Dark chocolate generally means chocolate with a cacao content of anywhere from 50 percent to 100 percent. The higher you go, the better it is, but the more bitter it tastes. That's because it's the heart-healthy flavonoids that give chocolate its bitterness, and there are five times as many flavonoids in dark chocolate than in milk.
How much chocolate should I be eating?
So what's the sweet spot (pun intended) for chocolate consumption? Around 6.7 grams a day, or half a bar a week, according to Italian researchers. A study from Milan indicates that this is the ideal amount to keep your heart healthy and reduce inflammation.
If that sounds well below your desired chocolate threshold, you'll probably be more inclined to follow the advice of the British Medical Journal, which puts the optimal dose at a more palatable 100 grams a day—suggesting that this amount is adequate for lowering your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Curb the Cravings
Unfortunately humans have developed a love-hate relationship with this heavenly treat, largely because we can't seem to control ourselves around it. The uplifting effect it has on our mood can quickly turn against us, becoming a full-blown addiction.
Our brain lights up when it's fed chocolate, activating the same parts of the brain that respond to addictive substances like cocaine.
Of course, being a chocoholic is vastly different from battling drug addictions, but we do get a buzz from our chocolate bar and that can lead to binge-eating and, in severe cases, damage our relationship with our food, our bodies, and ourselves.
You can limit your cravings by gradually transitioning to healthier dark chocolate. Eat a bar of 70 percent cacao chocolate and you'll feel fuller than if you'd eaten regular milk chocolate. This makes it a great option for reducing sugar cravings, and therefore helping you stick to a healthy diet.
Cultivating a taste for dark chocolate isn't easy if you're used to the conventional milk chocolate, so take it slow and gradually build-up to the optimal 70+ percent range. Re-educating your sweet tooth might take some time but you will reach a point where your old favourites taste too sugary by comparison.
Bear in mind that if you're really craving chocolate, it may be a sign of magnesium deficiency. The body often knows what it needs and chocolate is a great source of this vital nutrient.
You might also be experiencing some hormonal shifts. Research shows almost 50 percent of women crave chocolate just before their period so be aware that you may reach for chocolate, but what you really need is some TLC and a little extra self-care.
Chocolate can absolutely be part of a healthy diet if you practice mindful eating. When you're invested in your health, food is more than a treat or a snack, it's a way to show your body some love. And with chocolate's role in heart health, there's plenty to love about this sweet superfood!
If you're trying to build healthier eating habits, Which Doctor's network of dietitians, naturopaths and nutritionists can help. Join up today to book a one-on-one consultation to discuss your health goals and nutritional needs.
Catherine Morris is an award-winning journalist with a bad case of wanderlust and a passion for all things health and wellness. Originally from Northern Ireland, she worked as a news and feature writer for media outlets in the UK, South Africa, France and the Caribbean before settling in Canada. Catherine now lives in Alberta with her husband and rescue mutt and spends her time happily exploring the great outdoors with both.