The month of February brings upon Valentine’s Day: the day of flowers and chocolate. Chocolate- sensationalized by Hershey’s Chocolate Factory, fondue nights at nationwide restaurants, and hundreds of dessert menus- has a widespread stigma that it is not healthy for consumption. However, research suggests that this sweet treat can be chock-full of health benefits to satisfy your scrumptious craving.
According to research from Harvard University , cocoa- the ingredient necessary in making basic milk chocolate- is rich in plant chemicals called flavanols, which may aid in protecting the heart.
Dark chocolate contains up to three times more flavanols as milk chocolate, which would make heart protection even more effective. “Flavanols have been shown to support the production of nitric oxide (NO) in the endothelium (the inner cell lining of blood vessels) that helps to relax the blood vessels and improve blood flow, thereby lowering blood pressure," Harvard informs.
In addition, short term studies show that chocolate can be a catalyst in increasing insulin activity, which could lessen the risk for diabetes in the long run.
“It’s actually good for your heart and also good for your blood pressure," says Valentine Yanchou Njike, MD, MPH, of the Yale Griffin Prevention Research Center, who has researched cocoa’s effect on blood vessel function.
The lack of awareness regarding chocolate-associated health benefits stems from the belief that simply eating it is unhealthy. This is false- over-consuming chocolate can lead to digesting more saturated fats than your body can healthily ingest. “Think bite-size," Karen Collins, MS, RD, nutrition advisor to the American Institute for Cancer Research suggests.
This yields the tactic of placing a chocolate bar in the freezer: the colder it is, the slower you eat, and the less you theoretically consume.
According to the study, chocolate is sometimes curated in less healthy ways, where “lower quality chocolates may also be made with butter fat, vegetable oils, or artificial colors or flavors." Additionally, “White chocolate does not contain any cocoa solids and is made simply of cocoa butter, sugar, and milk," whereas dark chocolate has chunks of healthy benefits.
The major nutritional benefits of snacking on the serving-size recommended portion are immense. Aside from flavanols, chocolate is rich in iron, copper, magnesium, zinc, and phosphorous. Some individuals take supplements to increase these vitamin levels, but simply taking a bite of chocolate could be beneficial as well. Of course, taking probiotics is still a viable option, especially if you are recommended to take additional supplements by your physician.
To make the most out of these great benefits, shop around for 70% dark chocolate or higher to obtain a greater percentage of flavanol components. The higher amount of cocoa solids, however, will make the taste more bitter. Try complimenting this yummy dessert with some fresh fruit to offset the bitterness with a tart flavor.
Sweetly savor every section of your next chocolate bar. You now know that taking a “bite" is healthy for you, after all!