Chocolate is regarded as an indulgent treat because it is mainly associated with weight gain and acne. Americans spend $10 billion annually on chocolaty treats. It is not all bad news as countless studies show dark chocolate has many health benefits. Here are 20 you may not know about and which will help you to indulge in it with less guilt. In moderation of course – I mean, the guilt!

1. It can help your heart to stay healthy

Lots of studies reveal that the flavonoids in chocolate can help your veins and arteries to stay supple. Over 7 studies followed 114,000 participants who were given a few servings of dark chocolate a week. The results showed that their risk of getting a heart attack was reduced by about 37% while the chances of getting a stroke were 29% less when they had a higher consumption of chocolate.

2. It may help improve your memory as you get older

Research has shown that when elderly people were given specially prepared cocoa extracts which was high in flavanols, their cognitive function greatly improved. The only problem is that when it comes to eating chocolate, the percentage of those cocoa flavanols is much reduced due to the processing and the addition of eggs, sugar and milk.

3. It can help to avoid sunburn

One study conducted in London found that women who were given chocolate with a high flavanol content were able to withstand double the amount of UV light on their skins without burning, compared to those on lower doses.

4. It may make you better at math

I was never good at math at school. Maybe I should have eaten more dark chocolate! This is the startling conclusion I have reached after reading about the research of Professor David Kennedy who is Director of Brain, Performance and Nutrition at the Research Center of Northumbria University (UK). Participants were given 500 mg of flavanols in a hot cocoa drink. They benefited from increased flow to the brain as a result and were better at coping with difficult math equations.

5. It may put you in a better mood

I wish my uncle had given my aunt some chocolate when he told her to stop crying and to ‘cheer up.’ He obviously had not read about the work at the University of Swinburne in Australia. These guys again targeted the cocoa polyphenols and they found that it had a beneficial effect on the mood of the participants who were calmer and happier.

6. It may help lower cholesterol levels

The Journal of Nutrition carries an interesting article about the results of a study done to determine whether dark chocolate could have any effect on the LDL cholesterol levels. They found that when subjects were given bars of dark chocolate with plant sterols and flavanols, they were getting lower scores on their cholesterol levels.

7. It may help people with Alzheimer’s disease

As we know, the nerve pathways to the brain get damaged when Alzheimer’s disease strikes, causing severe loss in certain mental functions. It is fascinating to read about how one extract from cocoa, called lavado, can actually reduce the damage done to these vital pathways.

8. It can help you with your workout

Another magical flavanol in chocolate is epicatechin. Mice were given this substance and they were much fitter and stronger than those mice on water only. Researchers say that to get the best results from your workout you have to limit the amount to only about half of one square of chocolate a day! If you have too much, it could undo the beneficial effects.

9. It is very nutritious

Did you know that if choose chocolate with a high cocoa content (75% to 85%) you are getting a very nutritious snack? Take the typical 100 gram chocolate bar. It has almost all of your RDA for copper and manganese. It contains over half your magnesium RDA and about two thirds (67%) of your RDA for iron. It also has about 10% of fiber. There is also lots of zinc, selenium and potassium too.

10. It can help to lower your blood pressure

You may not know it but having the right amount of NO (Nitric Oxide) in your body can help your arteries to relax. That will, in turn help to take some of the pressure off them and the result is a lower BP count. Just another benefit of the dark chocolate flavanols which help to produce this vital Nitric Oxide.

11. It helps you produce more endorphins

When you are on a high, it may be due to excitement, love or after exercise. This high is due to the release of endorphins which are brain hormones. The great advantage of chocolate is that flavanols can also help in endorphin production without having to run a marathon! Endorphins play a key role in helping to prevent depression and other mental disorders.

12. It may reduce pregnancy complications

One of the complications of pregnancy is known as preeclampsia in which blood pressure can shoot up. Researchers have established that one of the chemicals in dark chocolate, theobromine, can stimulate the heart and help the arteries dilate. When pregnant women were given higher doses of chocolate, they had a 40% less chance of developing this complication.

13. It may help with diabetes

You probably think that chocolate is too sweet for diabetics and is one of their banned treats, but one small study at the University of L’Aquila in Italy found that the right does of chocolate flavonoids can help the body’s metabolism and enhance insulin function. This could benefit people with diabetes but more studies need to be done.

14. It may help you reduce your food cravings

You know the feeling: you cannot function until you have a snack. One of the healthiest is a piece of dark chocolate because it fills you up quicker and reduces craving for salty and sweet snacks, according to a small research study.

15. It may help your cough

Another marvelous effect of the theobromine chemical in chocolate is that it can calm a troublesome cough. Manufacturers are looking at this to produce safer cough syrups instead of using codeine which has some undesirable side effects.

16. It may help with blood circulation

Normally you take an aspirin to help prevent blood clotting and to improve circulation. Studies now show that chocolate can have a similar effect.

17. It can also help you see better

University of Reading researchers were curious to see if dark chocolate flavanols could actually improve vision as they knew it certainly improved blood circulation in general. They decided to do a small experiment and gave two groups of volunteers some white and dark chocolate. The dark chocolate groups were doing better on vision tests afterwards.

18. It may help reduce fatigue

If you suffer from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome you should try adding chocolate to your daily diet. One group of sufferers were given a daily dose of chocolate for two months. They were less tired and the best news of all is that they did not put on any extra weight.

19. It may help to lower your Body Mass Index

There has been a lot of emphasis on how chocolate can actually reduce your BMI (Body Mass Index) which is how you measure up as regards your height versus your weight. One study took 1,000 Californians and they found that those who ate chocolate more often during the week had a lower BMI. Overall diet and exercise regimes were not factors which influenced this result.

20. It may help reduce your chances of getting cancer

As we have mentioned, the cocoa flavanols in dark chocolate have both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. These are important in keeping the actions of free radicals at bay. As we know, these are the protagonists when cancer starts to invade cells.

Now that you have finished the list, why not have a piece of dark chocolate and enjoy it? Remember, the darker the better!

Featured photo credit: Life is like a box of chocolates/ Memphis CVB via flickr.com

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