February is a month when chocolate is especially popular.  How popular?  According to Business Insider, 36 million boxes of chocolate will be sold during Valentine’s season and chocolate producers reap profits of $1.011 billion.

For many years, we were told that chocolate was bad for us. But science is beginning to discover that certain types of chocolate, in particular dark chocolate, actually have many health benefits.  The benefits of this guilty pleasure include:

Dark chocolate is nutritious - In fact, 100 gram bar of dark chocolate with 70-85% cocoa contains the following nutrients:

  • 11 grams of fiber.
  • 67% of the RDA for Iron.
  • 58% of the RDA for Magnesium.
  • 89% of the RDA for Copper.
  • 98% of the RDA for Manganese.
  • It also has plenty of potassium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium.

Dark chocolate is a good source of antioxidants - Cocoa and dark chocolate have a wide variety of powerful antioxidants, way more than most other foods.

Dark chocolate may improve blood flow and lower blood pressure - The flavanols in dark chocolate can stimulate the endothelium, the lining of arteries, to produce Nitric Oxide, which sends signals to the arteries to relax.  This is turn lowers resistance to blood flow and therefore reduces blood pressure.

Dark chocolate raises HDL and protects LDL against oxidation - Dark chocolate improves several important risk factors for disease. It lowers the susceptibility of LDL to oxidative damage while increasing HDL and improving insulin sensitivity.

Dark chocolate may lower your risk of cardiovascular disease - Observational studies show a significant reduction in heart disease risk for the people who consume the most chocolate.

Dark chocolate may protect your skin against the sun - The flavonols in dark chocolat can protect against sun-induced damage, improve blood flow to the skin and increase skin density and hydration. Studies show that the flavanols from cocoa can improve blood flow to the skin and protect it against sun-induced damage.

Dark chocolate may improve brain function - Studies have shown that cocoa can improve blood flow to the brain and may also significantly improve cognitive function in elderly people with mental impairment. Cocoa also contains stimulant substances like caffeine and theobromine, which may be a key reason cocoa can improve brain function in the short term.

cocoa-and-dark-chocolateTo gain the benefits of consuming dark chocolate, it is important to get chocolate of high quality. Look for organic, dark chocolate with 70% or higher cocoa content.  Dark chocolates often contain some sugar, but the amounts are usually small and the darker the chocolate, the less sugar it will contain.

happy-woman-eating-dark-chocolateSo you no longer need to feel guilty if you enjoy a small piece of dark chocolate once in a while.  For now, enjoy moderate portions of chocolate (e.g., 1 ounce) a few times per week, and don’t forget to eat other flavonoid-rich foods like apples, red wine, tea, onions and cranberries.

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