by Bianca Charles

The benefits of chocolate

Dark chocolate: the indulgent treat for a healthy heart?

Dark chocolate: the indulgent treat for a healthy heart?
Dark chocolate

Chocolate doesn't have to be your guilty secret. Tucking into a square or two of good quality dark chocolate every now and then does have its health benefits. But despite its healthy credentials, even dark chocolate can be high in fat and calories (a medium-sized bar can contain up to 250 calories), so watch your portion sizes to get the most from your healthy treat.

Try to aim for chocolate with 70% cocoa solids and no added vegetable fats, and opt for flavourings of nuts and peel rather than caramel and nougat.

Another good thing about choosing dark chocolate over milk, is that its stronger, bitter taste means you won't be tempted to eat as much.

Ten reasons to feel good about eating dark chocolate:

1. Chocolate can help prevent heart disease: A nine-year Swedish study of more than 31 000 women found that those who ate one to two servings of dark chocolate a week cut their risk of cardiovascular disease by a third. This is thought to be due to its anti-inflammatory properties as well as the fact it contains high levels of flavonoids that enhance nitric oxide production.

2. Chocolate can help ward off cancer: High levels of the antioxidant polyphenol found in dark chocolate can lessen the damage caused by free radicals.You would need to drink 17 glasses of orange juice to get the same benefits as 50 grams of dark chocolate.

3. Chocolate can aid weight loss: Yes, really! The high fibre content of dark chocolate makes it more filling and satisfying than milk chocolate, meaning you're less likely to crave fatty, calorific foods.

4. Eat chocolate to relax: A Swiss study found that eating 40g of dark chocolate every day significantly reduces your levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.

5. Eat chocolate to increase your sun protection: Research found that people who ate chocolate with high levels of flavonoids for three months, took twice as long for their skin to redden when exposed to UV compared to those who ate none.

6. Chocolate consumption could help control diabetes: As nitric oxide (levels are enhanced by flavonoids that occur in chocolate) helps to control insulin sensitivity, regular chocolate munching can cut the onset of insulin resistance by half.

7. Chocolate enhances concentration: Very dark chocolate is thought to cause an increase in blood flow to certain parts of the brain, boosting alertness and performance for up to three hours.

8. Chocolate as cough medicine: Dark chocolate is rich in theobromine, which suppresses the activity of the cough-causing vagus nerve as effectively as codeine – but without any of the drowsy side effects.

9. Chocolate boosts blood flow: The anti-clotting, blood-thinning properties of dark chocolate have been shown to aid circulation and improve blood flow.

10. Chocolate can improve your vision: Research carried out by the University of Reading suggests that increased blood to the brain caused by eating dark chocolate may improve flow to the retina, helping you to see more clearly.

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