Change one thing: Eat dark chocolate
Dark chocolate has several health benefits that you may not be aware of
Once hard-to-come by, dark-chocolate bars now take pride of place on supermarket and high-street store shelves, where you can find an enticing assortment of plain and flavoured varieties with impressive percentages of cocoa solids ranging from 70 to 100 per cent. In fact, dark chocolate is now leading the way in the global chocolate market, and is predicted to hold on to its top spot—ahead of milk and white chocolate—over the next few years.
Fuelling the trend is no doubt dark chocolate's growing reputation as a health-boosting superfood.
Indeed, studies are stacking up to suggest that the dark stuff could be the new 'apple a day', keeping all sorts of health problems at bay, including heart disease and diabetes. And you don't need to eat much of it to reap the benefits.
If you're a chocolate lover and haven't yet gone over to the dark side, here are five reasons to make dark chocolate your go-to sweet treat.
It's good for your heart
Much of the research on dark chocolate concerns its heart-healthy effects. It seems to boost 'good' HDL cholesterol while lowering 'bad' LDL cholesterol,1 and just a couple of squares a day (6.3 g) can significantly lower blood pressure in people with mild hypertension (high blood pressure).2 While the blood pressure reduction with this amount was small—around 3 mmHg in systolic BP—it's significant, as such a decrease applied across a population "would reduce the relative risk of stroke mortality by 8 per cent, of coronary artery disease mortality by 5 per cent, and of all-cause mortality by 4 per cent", the researchers said.2
Eating dark chocolate also appears to reduce blood clots and improve the function of endothelium, especially within the arteries, which is responsible for producing nitric oxide, which dilates blood vessels and helps keep the arteries clear of obstruction.3
It may help ward off diabetes
Eating a bit of dark chocolate every day can protect against insulin resistance, one of the hallmarks of type 2 diabetes, according to an Italian study. Researchers at the University of L'Aquila assessed biomarkers of glucose and insulin response in healthy volunteers after they ate 100 g of dark chocolate—the equivalent of a standard Green & Black's chocolate bar—every day for two weeks, and checked them again after two weeks of eating white chocolate.
The results showed that dark chocolate significantly reduced insulin resistance and improved insulin sensitivity, whereas white chocolate had no effect.4
It can benefit your brain
When you consume chocolate, the beneficial flavanols it contains (see box, page 73) are absorbed into the brain, where they can accumulate in the regions involved in learning and memory, especially the hippocampus, research has shown.5 In one study of healthy adults, just a single dose of high-flavanol dark chocolate was enough to boost visual and cognitive performance, including spatial memory and attention.6
It may help keep you slim
Dark chocolate is more filling than milk chocolate, researchers have found, and so might help curb cravings for unhealthy foods. When Danish scientists at the University of Copenhagen compared the effects of 100 g of dark or milk chocolate on appetite and calorie intakes in a small group of healthy men, the participants reported feeling more satiated, less hungry and having less desire to eat sweet, salty or fatty foods after eating dark chocolate. Indeed, the group actually consumed 17 per cent fewer calories during a
'test meal' after having the dark chocolate vs the milk chocolate.7
Likewise, another study, but this time in healthy women, found that a dark-chocolate-based snack reduced hunger and subsequent calorie intakes more than a milk-chocolate-based recipe.8
It can protect the skin
A few bites of a bar of dark chocolate a day can act like a mild sunscreen, one study suggests, by helping to protect the skin against harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation. After three months of eating chocolate rich in flavanols—healthy compounds found in abundance in dark chocolate—a group of volunteers saw their 'minimum erythema dose', a measure of the amount of UV light needed to make the skin turn red, more than double, whereas another group eating low-flavanol chocolate saw no such changes.9
The amount consumed was just 20 g/day, the equivalent of around six squares of a standard Green & Black's chocolate bar.