As if You Needed a Reason to Love Chocolate

This is probably one of the most common guilty pleasures revealed in my office. But don't worry you are not alone. Americans consume over 11 pounds of chocolate per year. Which is not surprising as chocolate contains caffeine as well as tyramine and tryptophan, two substances, that the brain converts into the feel-good chemicals dopamine and serotonin. Besides tasting good and making you feel good, there are many surprising health benefits to deepen our chocolate love affair.

Lower Blood Pressure
Dark chocolate has been shown to reduce systolic and diastolic blood pressure. This is most likely due to flavanols, which are antioxidant compounds. They stimulate the production of nitric oxide found inside the walls of artery. This causes artery walls to relax and arteries to widen. Thus allowing for an easier flow of blood and lower blood pressure.

Blood Sugar Regulation
Although touted as a sweet food, dark chocolate and cocoa are actually low glycemic foods (lower than oatmeal) meaning than have a minimal effect on blood sugars. In addition, the antioxidants of chocolate may improve cells' sensitivity to insulin and glucose, which may lower blood sugar. This was demonstrated in one study in which participants had a decrease in blood sugar levels after consuming flavonol rich chocolate for 15 days.

Lower Cholesterol
Dark chocolate has been shown to significantly reduced serum low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and total cholesterol (TC) levels in some studies. Also antioxidants found in chocolate slow down LDL oxidation by neutralizing free radicals before they oxidize LDLs. Oxidized LDLs are undesirable since they result in arterial injury and clogged arteries.

Prevent Cardiovascular Events
Dark chocolate has been shown to have a major impact on endothelial and platelet function. One study showed that dark chocolate had similar beneficial effects on platelets as baby aspirin. Consuming dark chocolate may also decrease levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation considered as an independent indicator of coronary heart disease. In addition, a study conducted in Sweden showed a 20% decrease in the risk of stroke in women who consumed a weekly bar of dark chocolate over those who didn't.

Cancer prevention
Dark chocolate's cancer prevention properties are largely due to its high concentration of catechins and procyanidins. These compounds have beneficial health effects against oxidative stress and chronic inflammation, risk factors for cancer and other chronic diseases. In one study, it was shown that specific flavanols of chocolate stopped the multiplication of breast cancer cells. In another study using colon cancer cells, there was a demonstrated reduction in cancer cell growth rate.

Before you run to the candy counter to buy that chocolate bar, remember not all chocolate is created equally. To gain the health benefits choose dark chocolate with a 70-85% cocoa content and preferably fair trade. Most studies showed benefit with 25g of chocolate so 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 a regular size bar (1.55 oz) is plenty. An even better bet is simply adding 1-2 tbsp cocoa powder per day to your diet, giving you all the health benefits without refined sugar. You can add it to beverages, baking or even go savory as in a traditional Mexican mole sauce. For a hot tasty treat to share with your honey, click here for my Cocoa Caliente.