If you are on a diet, you are probably trying to maintain self-control by staying away from foods like chocolate. Not so fast, dark chocolate, in moderation, is actually part of a healthy diet. The health benefits of dark chocolate are so numerous and potent that your diet would be worse off without it. Chocolate comes from the cacao tree and as with any plant, it is filled with vitamins and nutrients.
The biggest piece of nutritional information to remember about dark chocolate is that it is loaded with antioxidants (flavonoids), which are some of the most powerful and life-giving nutrients found in plants. This super-food is also low in sodium and cholesterol while high in iron and potassium. With all of this good news, it is also important to remember that the fat and calorie content is still high, so it needs to be enjoyed in moderation to obtain the best health benefits.
Your Brain on Dark Chocolate
Studies have shown that dark chocolate increases blood flow to the brain, which enables you to feel more alert and increases performance in certain tasks. Dr. Ian Macdonald from the University of Nottingham conducted studies where he would monitor a subject’s brain activity through an MRI before, during, and after consuming dark chocolate and natural cocoa. The MRIs showed an increase in oxygen to the brain through the dilation of blood vessels. There was also more activity in certain areas of the brain. Not only is this good news for your state of mind but it can also prevent or slow the process of dementia and reduces your risk of stroke.
Another brainy fact about chocolate is that it has been shown to contain phenylethylamine (PEA), which is a feel good chemical that is believed to be released when people fall in love. PEA increases serotonin, which is a chemical in the brain that induces relaxation and has natural antidepressant properties.
Dark Chocolate Versus Other Chocolates
The more processed a chocolate is, the less antioxidants it will have. The best option is to choose a dark chocolate that says it is made up of at least 70 per cent cocoa. If the percentage is not available, make sure that the ingredients list ‘cocoa solids’ or ‘cocoa mass’ as first the first ingredient. One reason for this is that the more cocoa that is used, the less likely it is to have been over processed.
Milk chocolate is dark chocolate with milk and/or dairy added to give it a creamier texture. Because of the milk and the processing involved, many of the antioxidants have been muted and the health benefits do not balance out the high sugar and fat content. White chocolate involves even more dairy and processing so it contains even lower antioxidant levels than milk chocolate.
Even though it should be used in moderation, there are many creative ways to introduce dark chocolate into your life. For a double antioxidant dose, drink a glass of red wine with a bar of dark chocolate. Red wine is also known for having high antioxidant properties and they naturally compliment each other. A quick and healthy way to infiltrate your diet with dark chocolate is to add dark chocolate chips to cereal or oatmeal in the morning. These chips are also tasty in a trail mix. Cocoa powder can be added to many things as well. A sprinkling of cocoa powder on a piece of fruit or in yogurt can be quite tasty.
As you can see, dark chocolate benefits you in various ways. When eaten in moderation, this tasty snack provides a surprising amount of health benefits. Now is the time to indulge in your health and enjoy a treat so that you may reap the health benefits of dark chocolate.