The next time you eat a piece of chocolate, you may not have to feel so guilty about it. Despite its bad reputation for causing weight gain, a number of health benefits may be associated with this delicious treat.

Chocolate is made from tropical Theobroma cacao tree seeds. Its earliest use dates back to the Olmec civilization in Mesoamerica.

After the European discovery of the Americas, chocolate became very popular in the wider world, and its demand exploded.

Chocolate has since become a popular food product that millions enjoy every day, thanks to its unique, rich, and sweet taste.

Nutrient Light (100 g) Dark (100 g)
Energy 531 kcal 556 kcal
Protein 8.51 g 5.54 g
Carbohydrate 58 g 60.49 g
Fat 30.57 g 32.4 g
Sugars 54 g 47.56 g
Iron 0.91 mg 2.13 mg
Phosphorus 206 mg 51 mg
Potassium 438 mg 502 mg
Sodium 101 mg 6 mg
Calcium 251 mg 30 mg
Cholesterol 24 mg 5 mg

But what effect does eating chocolate have on our health?

Increases heart health:

The antioxidants in dark chocolate have been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of clotting and increase blood circulation to the heart, thus lowering the risks of stroke, coronary heart disease and death from heart disease.

Balances the immune system:

Flavonols prevent the immune system from going into overdrive and reduce oxidative stress, which is an imbalance caused by cells fighting against free radicals and a common cause of many diseases.

Combats diabetes:

Epicatechin protects cells, makes them stronger and supports the processes that help the body to use insulin better, which might prevent or combat diabetes.

Improves brain function:

Flavonols in dark chocolate have a positive impact on brain function, including better reaction time, visual-spatial awareness and stronger memory. Though research is ongoing, one reason for this may be that flavonols increase blood flow to the brain.

Boosts athletic performance:

The epicatechin in dark chocolate increases the production of nitric oxide in the blood, which supports circulation and reduces the amount of oxygen an athlete uses while engaged in moderately intense exercise. This allows the athlete to maintain workout intensity for longer.

Reduces stress:

People who ate dark chocolate reported that they felt less stressed, and researchers confirmed that after eating dark chocolate, there were reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This may be related to dark chocolate’s effects on heart health, since stress is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

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 (NO) (3Trusted Source).

One of the functions of NO is to send signals to the arteries to relax, which lowers the resistance to blood flow and therefore reduces blood pressure.

Many controlled studies show that cocoa and dark chocolate can improve blood flow and lower blood pressure, though the effects are usually mild.

However, one study in people with high blood pressure showed no effect, so take this with a grain of salt.

Given the great variation between studies on this subject, it’s clear that more research is needed.

May protect your skin from the sun:

The bioactive compounds in dark chocolate may also be great for your skin.

The flavanols can protect against sun damage, improve blood flow to the skin, and increase skin density and hydration.

The minimal erythemal dose (MED) is the minimum amount of UVB rays required to cause redness in the skin 24 hours after exposure.

In one study of 30 people, the MED more than doubled after consuming dark chocolate high in flavanols for 12 weeks.

If you’re planning a beach vacation, consider enjoying some extra dark chocolate in the prior weeks and months. But check with your doctor or dermatologist before forgoing your normal skin care routine in favor of more dark chocolate.

Stroke:

Canadian scientists, in a study involving 44,489 individuals, found that people who ate one serving of chocolate were 22 percent less likely to experience a stroke than those who did not. Also, those who had about two ounces of chocolate a week were 46 percent less likely to die from a stroke.

A further study, published in the journal Heart in 2015, tracked the impact of diet on the long-term health of 25,000 men and women.

The findings suggested that eating up to 100 grams (g) of chocolate each day may be linked to a lower risk of heart disease and stroke.

Risks and precautions

Weight gain:

Some studies suggest that chocolate consumption is linked to lower body mass index (BMI) and central body fat. However, chocolate can have a high calorie count due to its sugar and fat content. Anyone who is trying to slim down or maintain their weight should limit their chocolate consumption and check the label of their favorite product.

Sugar content:

The high sugar content of most chocolate can also be a cause of tooth decay.

Migraine risk:

Some people may experience an increase in migraines when eating chocolate regularly due to cocoa’s tyramine, histamine, and phenylalanine content. However, research is mixed.

Bone health:

There is some evidence that chocolate might cause poor bone structure and osteoporosis. The results of one study, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that older women who consumed chocolate every day had lower bone densityTrusted Source and strength.

Heavy metals:

Some cocoa powders, chocolate bars, and cacao nibs may contain high levels of cadmium and lead, which are toxic to the kidneys, bones, and other body tissues.

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