‘What you see before you my friend, is the result of a lifetime of chocolate’ – Katharine Hepburn
Dark chocolate is healthy! It’s true! I’ve always loved dark chocolate, even as a child. Most people I knew then, thought it was odd. I’d always search for the single dark chocolate in the big variety tin at Christmas. Then, later on, one boss I had used to buy a box of chocolates for every member of his team. Milk Tray, Celebrations, After Eights, Quality Street, Turkish Delight, they were all there, laid out like a Christmas Grotto! He used to buy two boxes of Black Magic because ‘no-one likes dark chocolate’! I guess he was right, I never had trouble getting a box of Black Magic even though there must have been 80+ staff!
But what I didn’t know then, was how healthy dark chocolate is. Obviously not if you eat bars and bars of it; like anything, too much isn’t good. After all it is still a sweet treat which contains sugar and saturated fat. But a couple of pieces every day can actually be good for you. It’s loaded with nutrients and is one of the best sources of antioxidants you can find. Unbelievably, eating dark chocolate can improve your health and lower your risk of heart disease and cancer. It does need to be good quality though. Like anything, there are some very unhealthy bars out there so make sure to check labels and go for at least 70% cocoa content.
So let’s have a look at the benefits:
Nutritional benefits – good quality dark chocolate, with at least 70% cocoa solids, contains a decent amount of soluble fibre, plus high amounts of iron, calcium. magnesium, copper and manganese. It also has zinc, potassium, phosphorus and selenium.
Increased levels of Antioxidants – raw, unpressed cocoa beans contain exceptionally high levels of antioxidants. In fact, good quality dark chocolate contains more polyphenols and flavanols than blueberries and green tea, both of which are well known as ‘superfoods’. These flavanols are helpful in reducing insulin resistance which is a risk factor for diabetes and heart disease. Antioxidants can help prevent cancer, reduce the risk of strokes and even help with weight loss and aging.
Reduced Cholesterol – dark chocolate decreases the bad LDL cholesterol which causes heart disease and increases levels of the good, HDL, cholesterol which is known to help prevent it. There have been plenty of scientific studies to prove this, including one which showed that the risk of death in men from heart disease was reduced by 50% over 15 years in those who ate a small amount of good quality dark chocolate on most days of the week.
Lowered Blood Pressure – The flavanols in the chocolate can help lower blood pressure by encouraging the arteries to relax which improves blood flow and helps reduce the pressure.
Skin Protection – the flavenols can protect your skin against sun damage (always use sunscreen though), improve blood flow to the skin, improve hydration and increase skin density.
Improves brain function – studies have shown that regularly eating dark chocolate can improve cognitive function and verbal fluency by increasing blood flow. Concentration and focus improves, your reaction time will be quicker and your attention span longer. Problem solving skills are increased too.
Improves mental health – flavanols help to regulate your mood and can even alleviate depression. Dark chocolate boosts production of endorphins, known as the feel-good chemical which not only makes you feel better but can reduce pain and the negative effects of stress on your body. It also contains trytophan which supports feelings of happiness. and dopamine which supports a positive mood.
Helps lose weight – this might sound crazy but eating dark chocolate really can help with weight loss! Basically a small piece of chocolate after a meal tells your brain that you are full and stops you going back for seconds. It can also work when you feel the need for something sweet – one square of dark chocolate may well be all you need to stop you eating a whole packet of biscuits!
If you’re wondering about the environmental impact, it’s good to know that dark chocolate, made from the seed of the Theobroma cacoa tree, has a substantially lower impact than milk or white chocolate. This is most felt in the areas where the cocoa beans are farmed, largely Central and West Africa, Asia and Latin America. Chocolate has been associated with deforestation and, in some areas, child labour. However, the situation is improving with the industry taking climate change and moral principles seriously. We can help by always choosing chocolate which is certified by either Fairtrade or the Rainforest Alliance
Not too difficult to guess the tiny tweak this week! If you don’t already eat dark chocolate, why not give it a try? If you’re not used to it, don’t go for anything more than 70% cocoa solids to start with as you will probably find it too bitter. My current favourite is Galaxy Fusions Dark Chocolate with 70% Cocoa but I also love Green & Blacks Sea Salt and, if you’re in the UK, Co-op do a fabulous Dark Chocolate with Raspberries which I love.
If you are already a fan, how about experimenting with different strengths and flavours? I have one that is 100% cocoa, Montezuma’s Extraordinary Chocolate, but it is incredibly intense and I can only eat a tiny bit of it so it’s lasting a while! You could even try adding it to dinners. Chilli in particular is great with a little chocolate added during the cooking as a secret ingredient!
Let me know what you think about dark chocolate! Do you like it? What’s your favourite? Any suggestions for using it in cooking? I’d love to know!
Until next time xx
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