Easter has just passed by, and for many of us, that meant homes filled with chocolate.
Of course, chocolate isn’t just for Easter.
We love indulging in this tasty treat all year round.
The only problem? Chocolate isn’t always guilt-free.
This “food of the Gods”, as the Mayans called it, has a reputation for causing everything from obesity to diabetes. However, when you dive into the science, you begin to see that you don’t have to feel so guilty about munching on chocolate after all.
Like most things, chocolate isn’t all bad, or all good.
There are plenty of chocolate health benefits to discover if you know how to indulge the right way.
Here’s what you need to know about making the most of chocolate.
What are Chocolate’s Health Benefits & Risks?
Studies in the nutritional world increasingly indicate that stocking up on chocolate recipes could be good for your health. One report from Cambridge, Manchester, Aberdeen, and East Anglia universities revealed that people who eat 100g of chocolate per day have an 11% lower chance of suffering from a heart attack.
More recently, a review published in the International Journal of Environmental Research in 2019 found that dark chocolate can improve glucose control, cardiovascular health, and sexual function.
The majority of chocolate health benefits come from the presence of “flavonoids” on cocoa beans. Flavonoids are an antioxidant found in red wine, tea, and chocolate, which help to stimulate blood flow, and reduce free radicals (often responsible for disease).
Crucially, there are different kinds of chocolate, and each has different benefits.
While milk chocolate might give you a dose of calcium, dark chocolate is often deemed the healthiest version, because it contains a high number of antioxidants, and more nutrients. A standard 100-gram bar of dark chocolate with up to 85% cocoa contains:
- 98% of your RDI for manganese
- 89% of the RDI for copper
- 58% OF your RDI for magnesium
- 67% of the RDI for iron
- 11 grams of fibre
You also get a healthy dose of potassium, phosphorous, selenium and zinc.
The various benefits of dark chocolate can improve your blood pressure by reducing lipid levels that are often higher in people carrying more weight.
Living Healthy with Chocolate
Chocolate health benefits are far-reaching, covering everything from disease-fighting antioxidants to protect against mental health issues. One study in 2019 found that regularly consuming dark chocolate reduces your chances of having clinical depression.
So, why don’t we eat chocolate constantly?
Because chocolate also tends to contain a lot of sugar and calories.
Chocolate health benefits are best leveraged through consumption in moderation.
If you struggle to eat just one or two blocks of choc at a time, it might be time to try some alternative methods. Such as:
- Blending it into a smoothie: Add dark chocolate chips or a few small squares to your smoothies. You’ll get your fix, without the overwhelming desire to keep eating. Try combining sweet flavours like cherry and chocolate, with kale, so you can sneak in some extra antioxidants.
- Adding it to cereal: Rather than eating all your chocolate bar in one go, why not crush some up to add to your cereal? It gives you something to look forward to each morning. The boost of sugar will get you on track for the day, and you can even use it to kickstart your metabolism.
- Drizzle some chocolate: Melt a little dark chocolate carefully and drizzle it onto your fresh fruit, popcorn, or anything else you can think of. You can create all kinds of chocolate recipes this way without over-eating.
- Try chocolate milk: Chocolate milk is delicious, and it’s an easy way to start experimenting with dark chocolate – the kind that has more chocolate health benefits. If you’re not used to dark chocolate, mixing a small amount with some low-fat milk will help to banish your cravings, and ease you into the flavour.
- Add it to nut butters: Nut and seed butters are surprisingly good for you – like chocolate, but in moderation. You can add some chocolate to your nut butter for an extra boost of sweetness and smear the mixture onto fresh fruit slices for an extra healthy treat.
- Exploring chocolate alternatives: Cacao nibs are a fantastic alternative to chocolate, similar to chocolate chips. They’re rich in chocolate health benefits, and they’re less likely to cause a calorie overload. You could also look into low-fat chocolate bars and chocolate milk. Studies show that chocolate milk could be the best post-workout drink, thanks to its energy-boosting benefits.
Milk Chocolate: Benefits and Disadvantages
If you’re not used to the bitterness of high-cocoa dark chocolate, it can be difficult to make the switch from milk chocolate bars.
The good news is that milk chocolate can still be good for you. Studies show that cocoa, the key ingredient in all kinds of chocolate, is a product that’s rich in biologically active phenolic compounds and antioxidants.
Like dark chocolate, milk chocolate can also have a positive impact on things like premature ageing, oxidative stress, blood pressure regulation, and more. However, there are some extra downsides to milk chocolate too.
Milk chocolate may have a small amount of calcium as an added benefit, but it’s also slightly more likely to lead to weight gain due to a higher concentration of fats, and additional calories. With milk chocolate, you’ll need to be a lot more cautious about how much you eat.
If you tend to buy more milk chocolate than anything else, consider easing yourself into some chocolate alternatives with slightly higher-percentage cocoa products.
Can I Eat Dark Chocolate on a Diet?
If you’re currently on a diet and you’re keen to join in on the festivities, dark chocolate is probably the best choice. A dark chocolate bar (eaten in moderation), might actually help you with your weight loss efforts.
Studies show that eating dark chocolate for diet purposes could reduce cravings and help you to feel fuller, which may also improve weight loss. In one study, eating dark chocolate decreased appetite and reduced ghrelin levels (the hormone responsible for hunger).
One study found that participants not only felt fuller after eating dark chocolate than they did eating milk chocolate, but they also consumed 17% fewer calories in their next meal.
Some studies also indicate that dark chocolate may improve the body’s sensitivity to insulin, the hormone that moves sugar out of the bloodstream and into the cells.
Decreasing insulin levels in the blood has been found to be associated with reduced fat storage and increased weight loss. Furthermore, studies have shown that dark chocolate can assist with blood sugar control, reducing crashes in blood sugar levels which promote feelings of hunger.
If all that wasn’t enough, dark chocolate also improves your mood. Studies found that people consuming higher amounts of dark chocolate had 57% lower odds of developing depressive symptoms. The happier you are, the less likely it could be that you’ll end up giving up on your diet or falling into bad habits like comfort eating.
How to Eat Chocolate the Right Way
Enjoying chocolate usually means allowing for a little bit of indulgence.
Forbidding yourself from eating chocolate or grabbing a chocolate egg when your kids are eating them is just setting yourself up for failure. However, you can improve your chances of getting more benefits from your chocolate treat with the right planning.
Try looking for a chocolate with around 60% cacao or more when you’re shopping for your own chocolate recipes. The higher the percentage, the better off you’ll be. If you’re new to dark chocolate, you can work your way up gradually, or mix the chocolate with low-fat milk for a great hot chocolate.
The other best thing you can do is eat your chocolate in moderation.
So, what’s a moderate amount?
That depends on you, but it’s generally not a good idea to eat an entire chocolate egg at once. If you’re going through chocolate at the same speed as your kids, it might be time to slow down. Their metabolisms go a little faster than yours.
One good way to avoid going over the top is to have a food diary where you can make a note of how much chocolate you eat and when. Drawing attention to it will help you to be more mindful about what you eat, and how often.
Whatever you do, don’t punish yourself for enjoying some chocolate.
Skipping meals to make up for an extra chocolate egg will mess with your metabolism. Take it easy and give yourself a treat from time to time. You deserve it.
Still got questions? Why not make use of your CircleDNA Premium complimentary consultation with our health coach and seek professional advice? We are happy to help! Book your consultation upon purchasing your Vital or Premium kit.