Is chocolate actually healthy?

Wait – why are we even asking such a question? Of course chocolate isn’t good for us! It’s packed with sugar and fat – which we already know should be limited in our diets, unless we’ve been living under a rock our whole life. Chocolate’s one of those “guilty pleasures.” It’s the decadent bar that gets sneakily pulled from the kitchen drawer where a girl’s been hiding it from her housemates – well, that’s true in the TV ads, at least. It’s the Friday night indulgence, alongside a glass of red and a trashy film. It’s not something we associate with virtuousness or health benefits.

Well, perhaps we’ve been slightly mistaken this whole time. We’re not saying you should go stock up on supplies of Dairy Milk. But it turns out that adding a little chocolate to your diet could prove beneficial – as long as you choose the right kind.

Dark chocolate is much better for you than milk or white; it has a much lower sugar content and contains less dairy and associated fats. It’s the cacao component that’s the really good part. Therefore, a chocolate containing high levels of cacao (i.e. anything over 70%) is what we should be looking for. And what exactly can cacao do for us? We’ve broken it down for you below.

1. It can relieve stress.

Studies like this one indicate that the contents of cacao can help to ease stress. That explains our tendency to reach for the chocolatey stuff when we’re particularly worried or upset. In chocolate, we find anandamide, which is a chemical compound that’s been referred to as the ‘bliss molecule.’ Chocolate also contains tryptophan and endorphins – both shown to reduce feelings of stress.

2. It helps to prevent ageing.

The potent antioxidants present in cacao have been shown to prevent cellular damage and reduce the impact of free radicals, which are the chemicals that react with our body’s cells and contribute to signs of ageing (such as wrinkles). Cacao contains more of these great antioxidants than a range of other “superfoods,” including blueberries and pomegranates.

3. It can make you smarter.

It looks like there’s a reason behind your gran’s propensity for a cup of cocoa in the evenings; it might actually be keeping her brain sharp. Studies like this one have shown that chocolate can help to improve mental performance when consumed consistently. It can also boost memory and the capacity for abstract thinking.

4. It can protect against heart attacks.

While chocolate is clearly high in fat, it’s not high in the bad type. Chocolate contains stearic acid, which, unlike other saturated fats, has a neutral effect on cholesterol rather than contributing to its increase. Chocolate also contains flavanols, which can improve blood flow to the heart and make blood platelets less capable of clotting.

5. It doesn’t give you acne

Myth, busted! When an outbreak of spots occurs, it’s tempting to point fingers and blame chocolate as the cause. But the fact that an outbreak happened the day after consuming a family-sized bar of Galaxy could be entirely coincidental. In fact, sudden skin flare-ups are more likely to be caused by the very hormones that also heighten your chocolate cravings when that time of the month rolls around.

So, it turns out that chocolate doesn’t have to be the dietary devil it’s long been painted as. That being said, no-one’s advocating making chocolate a staple part of your diet. But it’s becoming widely accepted that a little bit of the dark stuff every now and then can be more beneficial to your health than anyone previously imagined.

 

READ THIS NEXT: 5 healthy ways to satisfy your sweet tooth

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