5 Surprising Reasons to Eat More Chocolate

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Many of chocolate's superpowers -- boosting mood, easing stress, helping with PMS -- are well known. But what about its lesser-known health properties? Recent studies have shown that eating chocolate can provide a whole slew of health benefits, from heart health to keeping you thin.

"Chocolate has a well-deserved health halo," says Beth Reardon, director of integrative nutrition at Duke Integrative Medicine, part of the Duke University Health System. "But not all chocolate is created equal."

Here are five surprising reasons to eat more chocolate -- as though you needed any more excuses -- and five tips for boosting its health benefits.

Chocolate boosts vision.

A British study in 2010 asked young adults to eat either dark or white chocolate, then tested their visual contrast sensitivity (their ability to read light-colored words on a light-colored background, for instance) and motion sensitivity (their ability to detect moving dots on a moving background). The participants came back later to try the other type of chocolate and retake the tests. Researchers found that, relative to white chocolate, dark chocolate better boosted scores on both tests and also improved spatial memory.

Picking out moving dots on a computer screen isn't an essential task for most of us, but what about driving at night? Being able to detect motion in low-contrast situations is a pretty important part of driving safely.

The authors suggested that the effects of chocolate on vision might be even greater in older adults, who generally have a harder time distinguishing contrasts.

Tip: Reardon says if you're going for a chocolate bar, choose one that's both 72 percent cacao or above and organic, since chocolate is a heavily-sprayed crop. Aim for half to one ounce per day -- about a two-inch square of most chocolate bars.

Chocolate helps with persistent coughs.

In a small British study in 2005, participants were asked to inhale capsaicin, the stuff that makes chili peppers spicy, and then were given various potential cough suppressants. The one that worked best? Hot cocoa.

Researchers found that theobromine, a derivative of chocolate, worked better than codeine to stop coughing, probably because of its effect on the vagus nerve, which links the brain to the stomach, heart, and other important organs.

Based on the findings, a British company is working to develop a cough syrup based on the compound that would have none of the drowsiness-inducing side effects of codeine-based syrups -- and might taste better, too.

Tip: Whether you're making cocoa for a cough or just to enjoy, be sure to choose non-Dutch-process cocoa, often labeled "100 percent cocoa" or "natural cocoa." Reardon says the Dutch process alkalizes the chocolate, removing some of the beneficial flavonols. It's still fine for baking but not as good for sipping.

Chocolate protects your skin.

A German study in 2006 found that the flavonols in dark chocolate can protect skin from the harmful effects of UV light. A 2009 study in Britain found similar results but noted that the levels of flavonols required to protect your skin are higher than those found in most standard chocolate. The special, high-flavonol chocolate used in the study increased blood flow and moisture content in the skin, helping to keep skin healthier and better looking.

Tip: When choosing a bar of chocolate, look for one with the fewest ingredients possible. "You don't want sugar to be the first or second ingredient," says Reardon. "Sugar negates the health benefits of the powerful antioxidants in chocolate." Instead, look for a bar that lists cocoa solids or cocoa mass as the top ingredient. Or toss a handful of bitter cocoa nibs into your granola, trail mix, or cookie dough. You'll get the health benefits of chocolate with no added sugar.

Chocolate prevents diarrhea.

If you had a bad case of the runs in 16th-century South America, you probably would have been given chocolate to ease your symptoms.

In 2005, a collaborative study between the Children's Hospital & Research Center in Oakland, California, and Heinrich Heine University in Germany found the scientific evidence to support the ancient treatment -- the flavonoids in chocolate can inhibit a protein called CFTR, which can cause the extra intestinal fluid secretion characteristic of diarrhea.

Tip: Not feeling up for something sweet? Try using chocolate in main dishes, whether as an ingredient for mole or a rub for short ribs. "It's healthy for us to think outside the box in terms of using cocoa," says Reardon. "We tend to think of chocolate as a sweet dessert, but an unsweetened chocolate is actually more savory."

Chocolate helps your heart.

A 2011 meta-analysis published in the British Medical Journal looked at more than 100,000 study participants in 7 different studies and found that eating chocolate cut the risk of various cardiovascular diseases by a third.

Separate studies have found that chocolate can lower blood pressure, improve blood vessel health, and help regulate blood sugar.

Tip: Want bonus health points? Have a few dark chocolate-covered cherries, almonds, or ginger slivers. You'll get a compound effect from the chocolate combined with the other healthful ingredients.


over 2 years ago, said...

The entire article, it informed me of a lot of things that I had no idea was beneficial from the use of Chocolate... Thanks!


over 2 years ago, said...

Beware to NOT ADD Chovolate CALORIES to your diet. In my opinion I was only adding 20 calories of 100% unsweetened powdered cocoa to my already usual milk & Vanilla Slim Fast breakfast . So I think I get the benefit of cocoa without too many calories or extra food or candy. I surely did not want to gain weight. Just a thought. (Am only using Slim Fast with milk as a meal due to DRs reckless, needless prescribing of Rx Antibiotics which causes Floroquinolone Toxicity that damaged tendons & nerves. Thus have a chronic, painful condition with digestive problems. Need all the Food for Health that I can digest. (Now Primarily Organic ) 100% powdered Cocoa as I described does the job without adding calories & weight. (Unable to be as physically active as I was prior to being "Poisoned" FLOXED which damaged my tendons & nerves. (BEWARE RX Antibiotics: Cipro, Levaquin & Avelox. Many thousands have been harmed, many permanentlt)


over 2 years ago, said...

Wanted to preventively improve blood pressure & insulin levels. I already prepare powdered Vanilla Slim Fast, often with Berries, cooked carrots &/or Kale. (No extra sugar) Now for variety I instead add 1 TBSP of 100% powdered unsweetened cocoa to the powdered Vanilla Slim Fast & warm milk. (No extra sugar) It's Delicious. A relief to know that I am protecting my blood pressure & vessels. 100% unsweetened POWDERED cocoa (no additives) is found in the baking section of supermarkets. No need for melting chocolate bars or adding many unnecessary calories. (Pkg says Only 20 calories per Tablespoon.)


over 2 years ago, said...

I love the article. Very interesting and filled with surprising findings.


over 2 years ago, said...

all---bonus points tip...


over 2 years ago, said...

I have always been a chocaholic. I'm 78 years old, healthy, active and have virtually no chronic symptoms of disease. Thank you CHOCOLATE!


over 3 years ago, said...

Everyone LOVES chocolate....


over 3 years ago, said...

Yes,I am on a diet to loose several lbs but i keep a large bar in the re frig and break off a small piece every day . Works for me. RB


over 3 years ago, said...

I'm a chocoholic! Hershey's kisses, nuggets, M&M's, chocolate cake, and chocolate ice must be in the house or I'll freak out! LOL


over 3 years ago, said...

I LUV CHOCOLATES!!


over 3 years ago, said...

I like to know where can I get dose chocolates without sugar


almost 4 years ago, said...

Chocolate can be very relaxing and sedative like if consumed too much.


almost 4 years ago, said...

I REALLY DIDN'T KNOW DARK CHOCOLATE WAS THAT GOOD FOR YOU. I NEED TO KNOW THE NAMES OF THE CHOCOLATES SO I CAN BUY SOME.AND WHICH ARE THE BEST. ARE YOU GOING TO ANSWER ME BACK SO I WILL KNOW ?


about 4 years ago, said...

The best organic is Green & Black's Dark Chocolate. This is the one my doctor even recommended.


about 4 years ago, said...

It is great to find we can enjoy something that is also healthy. O course, that group of wizen old men, all theologians, lawyers and some physicians, will find some scriptural passage, legality or pseudo-science, to try to deny us this pleasure, as they do all other pleasures in life.


about 4 years ago, said...

love chocolate! but why does dark chocolate Give me diarrhea?


about 4 years ago, said...

I love my dark chocolate! But, how do I find out which brands are organic? I like Lindt, but they dont say what they are????


over 4 years ago, said...

Finding out that chocolate actually helps with cardiovascular diseases. I am now a cardiac patient, and eating chocolate is a long-missed pleasure. I particularly love the really dark chocolate, so that is a big plus, finding out that is the best kind.


over 4 years ago, said...

Great to know, I love chocolate, thank you.


over 4 years ago, said...

Thank you a lot


over 4 years ago, said...

It's so relaxing and it's like having meditation in your mouth.


over 4 years ago, said...

This is the best news I've heard in a long time. I knew Chocolate (Cacao) is good in moderation, though I didn't know Organic was the one to have. I have Glaucoma and maybe this will help a little. I hope so, though if not, it will help in many other ways. It's a delicious medication, so I will have a square of cocoa every night to help my body. Thank you for this story... it is very informative.


over 4 years ago, said...

learning new benefits of chocolate


over 4 years ago, said...

I LOOOOOVE any type of chocolate, especially Dark Chocolate!!!!!!!!!!! I am living proof of good health( good cholesterol levels, heart and overall wellbeing, etc.) I do watch what I eat, nutrionally and care about my health. Chocolate is a wonder food in itself! thank God for this great treat!!!!!!


over 4 years ago, said...

I LIKE THE ARTICLE YOU WRIGHT.


over 4 years ago, said...

I can tell my chocolate lover friends how beneficial chocolate is for their health.


over 4 years ago, said...

I have a bit of chocolate everyday, but I never knew that its so beneficial.


over 4 years ago, said...

I am diabetic, but I love chocolates. I will try to sip hot cocoa with artificial sweeteners, will observe how will this affect my blood sugar and then i will get back to you after a week or two. Thanks.


over 4 years ago, said...

my mother has a severe, cronic cough from medications she is prescribed, and i am going to have her try drinking more chocolate and hope it will help.


over 4 years ago, said...

I think this is a great article, read it improve my knowledge about the chocolate, because I though it was not healthy for me because I have diabetes. Thanks!


over 4 years ago, said...

Everything in all, all the health issue's run in my family on both side...Just made my day..Finding out all that chocolate I was loving to eat on a time to time.. Was doing me some good of my health. Thank You!!!


over 4 years ago, said...

The assurance.


over 4 years ago, said...

Great, I've always loved chocolate - and now it's justified !


over 4 years ago, said...

Did not know about effect of chocolate on coughing.


over 4 years ago, said...

Loved it!


over 4 years ago, said...

I'm gonna try it and see what happens...thanks for the info...


over 4 years ago, said...

knowing that it helps your vision, skin, heart, mood, etc...never knew this...I'll be passing it on to my family and friend...Thanks for the info...


over 4 years ago, said...

Reluctantly...I will just have to test the theory, and suffer for science.


over 4 years ago, said...

It may not have been the hot cocoa that stopped the coughing from the inhaled capsaicin. Milk is known to stop the burn from this hot ingredient. That said - I have at least 1/2 oz of 72% dark chocolate daily.


over 4 years ago, said...

Thank you...this is very hepful to all.


over 4 years ago, said...

I WILL START GIVING ENOUGH DARK CHOCOLATE TO MY WIFE. IT MIGHT HELP HER WITH HER IBS.


over 4 years ago, said...

ALL THE INFORMATION CONTAINED IN IT. I HAVE BEEN AN OPEN HEART SURGERY PATIENT FOR THE LAST 6 YEARS AND I HAVE ALWAYS ENJOYED DARK CHOCOLATE.


over 4 years ago, said...

I knew there was a GOOD reason for likiing chocolate!!