I love chocolate. I try to consume it in moderation and in the healthiest form I can find. See how you can too.
Chocolate, specifically dark chocolate, can offer several potential health benefits when consumed in moderation as part of a healthy and balanced diet. Here are a few ways chocolate can improve your health:
Heart Health: Dark chocolate contains flavanols, which are plant compounds that can help reduce inflammation, and improve blood flow to the heart. This can lower the risk of heart disease and stroke.
The research published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, which analysed more than 330,000 participants, found that eating chocolate more than once a week reduced the risk of developing coronary heart disease by 8 per cent when compared to those who indulged less often.
Brain Function: The flavanols in dark chocolate can also increase blood flow to the brain, which can improve cognitive function and memory. This is down to the polyphenols naturally found in cocoa, which promote the production of nitric acid, helping to increase blood flow to the brain. In fact, a study on older adults found that eating high-flavanol cocoa increased blood flow to the brain by 8 per cent after one week, and 10 per cent after two weeks.
Mood Booster: Chocolate contains phenylethylamine (PEA), a compound that can trigger the release of endorphins in the brain, leading to feelings of pleasure and happiness. Chocolate can be a source of tryptophan, an amino acid precursor to the mood-boosting endorphin serotonin, which helps reduce stress in the body. One 2016 study on men found that eating 50g of dark chocolate can have an anti-inflammatory effect, and protect from the physical effects of stress.
Antioxidant Properties: Oxidative stress can inflict damage on cells and tissues in the body, which can cause premature ageing. Dark chocolate contains antioxidants, which can help protect the body against damage from free radicals, potentially reducing the risk of certain diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
Skin Health: The flavanols in dark chocolate may also help protect the skin against sun damage and improve its overall appearance.
Can help lower blood pressure: Studies have found that flavanol-rich dark chocolate and cocoa powder can lower blood pressure. A 2017 review states that flavanols found in cocoa beans are thought to boost the production of nitric oxide, which stimulates blood vessels to dilate, helping to lower blood pressure overall.
Having high blood pressure significantly increases the risk of major health issues like coronary heart and circulatory disease, stroke and kidney disease. Remember that eating too much sugar can lead to weight gain over time, which puts you at risk of high blood pressure – so again, opt for dark varieties, in moderation.
It’s important to note that while chocolate can offer these potential health benefits, it should still be consumed in moderation, as it is high in calories and sugar. Choose high-quality dark chocolate with a cocoa content of at least 70% for the best health benefits.
4 Take Home Tips
So, if you are like me and have a weakness for chocolate there are a few things you can do to make the experience a good one.
1. Keep an eye out for the darker chocolate varieties with higher cocoa solids. You may notice a percentage on labelling, which refers to how much of its weight is from cocoa beans. In general, the higher this percentage, the lower the sugar. White chocolate has almost no cocoa solid, and mostly cocoa butter, sugar and other ingredients. Dark chocolate has 50–100% cocoa beans, and less sugar. Aim for at least 70% cocoa.
2. Read the fine print for additives and possible cross-contamination, especially if allergies might be an issue.
3. The ingredients list and nutrition information panel should tell you all about the chocolate you choosing. Go for varieties with lower sugar and less saturated fat. Nuts, seeds and dried fruits are better ingredients to have in your chocolate than sugar, creme, syrup, and caramel.
4. Finally, treat yourself – but keep the amount you have within sensible limits!
How often do you eat chocolate? Do you pay attention to the studies mentioned above or eat it because you enjoy it?
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Chocolate Cupcake Receipe
These cupcakes are not too sweet. This recipe is without icing so, feel free to add a dash of extra maple syrup, although I don’t think they need it.
Time: 1 hour
- 2 eggs
- 170ml maple syrup
- 125ml olive oil, or 125ml coconut oil, (see tip)
- 225g beetroot, peeled and grated
- 2 tablespoons of your choice of milk (check sugar content)
- 225g self-raising gluten free flour (wholemeal if desired)
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 30g cocoa powder
Preheat the oven to 170ºC. Line a muffin tin with 12-15 paper cases.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, maple syrup and oil. Stir in the beetroot and the milk. Sift in the flour, baking powder and cocoa, and stir until combined.
Divide the batter among the paper cases and bake in the oven for 20 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cupcakes comes out clean. Leave in the tin for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
Dust the cupcakes with cocoa powder or coconut sugar to serve.
When selecting coconut oil, choose a virgin coconut oil. Coconut oil will turn from a liquid to a solid at about 24°C, so if your oil has solidified, gently melt before using it.