Everyone knows too much chocolate has a negative effect on your waistline, but the health benefits of chocolate are numerous, too.

Chocolate is rich in antioxidants and other chemicals that can have really positive effects on your body. For example, the antioxidants found in chocolate can help your body’s cells protect themselves against damage caused by free radicals and environmental contaminants.

It would seem chocolate is especially good for your cardiovascular system. Flavanols in chocolate can lower blood pressure, promote good circulation (including blood flow to and from the brain and heart), lower your “bad” cholesterol and increase the flexibility of veins and arteries. Coincidentally, better blood flow to the brain could result in short-term boosts in critical thinking and mental alertness.

Eating small amounts of chocolate regularly may lower your risk of heart attack, thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties. It may also be good protection against a stroke. In 2011, a study in Sweden discovered that women who ate 45 grams or more of chocolate per week had a 20 percent lower risk of experiencing a stroke than women who ate less than 9 grams of chocolate per week.

Dark chocolate has even been shown to fight diabetes. In a study conducted in Italy, participants ate a dark chocolate candy bar every day for 15 days and ultimately saw their potential for insulin resistance reduced by nearly half. How does that work? The flavonoids in chocolate increase the body’s production of nitric oxide, a molecular compound that plays a big role in controlling insulin sensitivity.

And a German study has found a possible connection between chocolate’s flavonoids and sun protection. That’s right — eating chocolate may help to prevent a sunburn. In the study, one dozen women drank hot cocoa containing a high amount of flavonoids, while another dozen drank hot cocoa containing low amounts of flavonoids.

The women drank the cocoa every day for roughly three months. After this, the women were subjected to ultraviolet light. Scientists found that the skin of the women who drank the flavonoid-rich cocoa did not redden nearly as much as the skin of their counterparts.

The health benefits of chocolate also include the ability to boost a person’s mood, reduce stress, curb cravings for other foods, and even soothe coughing fits.

A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is: The darker and purer the chocolate, the better. Chocolate that has been processed or contains added ingredients tends to be higher in fat and sugar content and doesn’t pack nearly as many antioxidants as the unprocessed, plain jane stuff.

Of course, the purer the chocolate, the more bitter its taste will be. While some people like very bitter chocolate, others don’t. Aim for chocolate with a cacao content of at least 65 percent or greater to reap the health benefits of chocolate. Just remember to enjoy it in moderation and limit yourself to no more than 3 ounces in a single day.

Image by Gail via Flickr


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