For many, Easter is synonymous with chocolate. But contrary to popular belief, not all chocolate is created equally, or is as bad for our health as we might expect.
Commercial chocolate in the form of milk and white, contains cocoa butter, sugar, milk and small quantities of cacao. In contrast, dark chocolate contains a much higher percentage of cacao solids, making it naturally lower in sugar.
When eaten in moderation, dark chocolate can have some surprising health benefits says the Institute for Optimum Nutrition.
1 It contains helpful nutrients
Dark chocolate is rich in minerals such as iron, magnesium, and zinc. Magnesium is especially helpful in easing feelings of anxiety and aiding sleep, whilst zinc is involved in supporting the immune system.⠀
2 It contains beneficial plant compounds
Dark chocolate is loaded with antioxidants called flavanols, a natural compound found in plant foods such as fruit, vegetables, tea, coffee, wine and – unsurprisingly – cacao.
In fact, a recent study found that the brains of healthy adults recovered faster from a mild vascular challenge and performed better on complex tests if the participants consumed cocoa flavanols beforehand.
The higher the cacao contents, the more flavanols the chocolate will contain. Try to opt for bars with at least 70% cacao solids.
3 It contains four times more of one antioxidant than tea
A study published in The Lancet showed that chocolate contained four times as much catechin, a type of flavonoid, as tea. Another study found that cocoa contained higher levels of flavonoids overall per serving than black tea, green tea and red wine – all known to be high in flavonoids.
4 It could improve heart health
The flavonoids in cacao or dark chocolate are particularly associated with benefits for heart health. Studies suggest they can also lower blood pressure, reduce blood ‘stickiness’, improve responsiveness of the blood vessels, reduce inflammation and even reduce cholesterol.⠀
5 It can support mood and pain
Dark chocolate contains anandamide, a chemical which hooks up to receptors in the brain, increasing mood, and phenylethylamine, a neurotransmitter which stimulates the brain’s pleasure centres and may help to reduce pain.
It could help to control appetite
One small study showed that participants ate less junk food (high in salt, sugar and fat) after eating dark chocolate. This was not the case for those who consumed milk chocolate. Another study found that dark chocolate consumption was significantly lower than when eating milk or white chocolate, suggesting we need to eat less of it to feel satified.