You’ve seen the chocolate-is-healthy headlines — and who wouldn’t want to buy into them? Looking for license to eat decadent goodness? Here are some facts on the health benefits of dark chocolate backed by research: nothing funded by chocolate companies and no small, one-off studies without a larger body of research backing them up. Take a look.
1. Improves Heart Health
Research in the American Heart Journal found that eating three to six 1-ounce servings of chocolate a week reduces the risk of heart failure by 18%. And another study published in the journal BMJ suggests the treat may help prevent atrial fibrillation (aka a-fib), a condition characterized by irregular heartbeat. People eating two to six servings a week had a 20% lower risk of developing a-fib compared to those consuming it less than once a month. Researchers believe cocoa’s anti oxidant properties and magnesium content may help improve blood vessel function, reduce inflammation and regulate platelet-formation factors that contribute to a healthy heartbeat.
2. Lowers Blood Pressure
Speaking of your heart, among people with hypertension, daily chocolate consumption helps lower systolic blood pressure (the top number of the reading) by 4 mmHg, according to a recent review of 40 trials. (Not bad, considering that medication typically lowers systolic blood pressure by about 9 mmHg.) The researchers posit that chocolate’s flavanols signal your body to widen blood vessels, in turn dropping blood pressure.
3. Reduces Diabetes Risk
A 2018 study of more than 150,000 people published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that nibbling about 2.5 ounces of chocolate per week was associated with a 10% lower risk of Type 2 diabetes — and that was even after factoring in the added sugar. Chocolate appears to act as a prebiotic, feeding the beneficial bacteria that live in your microbiome. These good gut bugs produce compounds that improve insulin sensitivity and reduce inflammation.
4. Boosts Mental Sharpness
Older adults who reported eating chocolate at least once a week scored higher on a number of cognitive tests compared to those indulging less often, according to a study published in the journal Appetite. The researchers point to a group of compounds in chocolate called methylxanthines (which include caffeine) that have been shown to improve concentration and mood. (When you feel good, your brain also performs better.) And a Spanish study found that adults eating 2.5 ounces of chocolate a week have better scores on tests used to screen for cognitive impairment, like dementia.
EatingWell is a magazine and website devoted to healthy eating as a way of life. Online at www.eatingwell.com.
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