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5 surprising health benefits of chocolate

Netdoctor (UK) logo Netdoctor (UK) 09/04/2020 Ceitanna Cooper
Scientific studies show that chocolate makes us feel good because of it's mood-elevating chemicals, including caffeine, theobromine, tyrosine and tryptophan. © Jenny Dettrick - Getty Images Scientific studies show that chocolate makes us feel good because of it's mood-elevating chemicals, including caffeine, theobromine, tyrosine and tryptophan.

If you have a sweet tooth and find it impossible to resist Easter eggs at this time of year, first of all: you are not alone my friend. Second, you will be pleased to hear that chocolate comes with a surprising number of health benefits, from boosting your mood to helping alleviate a nasty cough.

Studies have shown that chocolate has the feel-good factor, thanks to a mix of mood-elevating chemicals, including caffeine, theobromine, tyrosine and tryptophan, and its delicious taste.

Having said that, it's important to opt for dark chocolate with a high cocoa solid content, where possible, as it offers more health benefits than milk chocolate, it is also lower in fat and contains antioxidants.

With the help of nutritionist Ceitanna Cooper, we've put together the top five health benefits of snacking on chocolate, as part of a well-balanced diet.

Cheat meal. Happy satisfied pregnant woman sitting in her bed with a plate full of different sweets. Cheat meal. Happy satisfied pregnant woman sitting in her bed with a plate full of different sweets.

Chocolate can cheer you up

The taste, smell and texture of chocolate stimulates feel-good areas of the brain. Chocolate also contains tryptophan, an essential amino acid that stimulates production of serotonin, the brain's natural anti-depressant. Experts equate the delicious feelings it induces to those we experience when we fall in love.

Chocolate improves heart health

Eating chocolate can lower blood pressure, thin the blood (reducing stroke risk) and comes with anti-inflammatory benefits, thanks to a high content of chemicals called flavonoids.

'Flavonoids also seem to stimulate the body to make more nitric oxide, which helps to widen and relax blood vessels, which may help to lower blood pressure,' says Cooper.

Sweet chocolate on grey background Sweet chocolate on grey background

Chocolate protects your arteries

Flavonoids in chocolate also help to stop LDL (dubbed the bad) cholesterol from oxidising, helping to prevent the furring up of arteries. Flavonoids contain more than 50 per cent of an unusual type of saturated fat called stearic acid, present in cocoa butter, that doesn't raise bad cholesterol and may even increase levels of the protective good cholesterol.

Chocolate calms coughs

Chocolate also contains a chemical called theobromine, which has been shown to suppress coughing by acting on the vagus nerve, which carries messages from the central nervous system to the brain.

Woman eating chocolate © Burak Karademir Woman eating chocolate

Chocolate benefits the brain

A chemical called epicatechin – found in cocoa and green tea – may also help protect the brain against the formation of sticky proteins or amyloid plaques which develop in Alzheimer's disease.

'We all know that too much sugary or fatty food can contribute to obesity and other health problems, but the good news for chocolate lovers is that small amounts can also have some health benefits,' says Cooper. 'So there's no need to feel guilty about indulging your cravings now and then, as long as it's part of a well-balanced diet.'

Homemade chocolate candies for Valentine's Day on dark table background. Homemade chocolate candies for Valentine's Day on dark table background.

What sort of chocolate is best?

Generally, the darker the chocolate (look for 70% and above cocoa), the higher the flavonoid content. Flavonoids are found in foods like broccoli, onions, fruit, as well as tea, and may help protect people against some types of cancer and heart disease.

'It's most likely that you get more flavonoids in a dark chocolate that lists cocoa beans, cacao, chocolate liquor or cocoa mass on its ingredients list, so check the label,' says Cooper. 'Milk chocolate tends to have very few flavonoids and white chocolate has none.'

Closeup of tasty broken chocolate chunks in pile, cocoa powder arround. Horizontal with copy space. Closeup of tasty broken chocolate chunks in pile, cocoa powder arround. Horizontal with copy space.

Does chocolate make a good snack?

Surprisingly, dark chocolate is classified as 'low GI' food, which means a small bar makes a suitable snack between meals, as it doesn't cause a rapid rise in blood sugar levels after being eaten. This is because the fat that it contains slows down the absorption of the sugar.

The caffeine content of chocolate has also been shown to help boost concentration and energy temporarily. But if you're curbing your caffeine intake then be sure to remember that chocolate counts as a caffeinated product!

If you eat it in small amounts, alongside a healthy, balanced diet, chocolate shouldn't contribute to weight gain and it will certainly not do you any harm.

Last updated: 09-08-2020

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