If you were to poll random people on the street about items they aren’t willing to give up from their diet, chances are, chocolate would be in the top 5.
The good news is that you don’t have to give up chocolate if you want to live a healthy lifestyle. In fact, quite the opposite. Good quality cacao or dark chocolate has some significant health benefits.
Chocolate is packed with many different antioxidants and flavonols, even moreso than green tea or wine.
One such compound, theobromine, has either shown or been correlated with the following benefits:
- Being a vasodilator (widens the blood vessels in the arteries) which can potentially help lower blood pressure.
- Being a bronchodilator (widens the airways of the lungs) which can aid in any respiratory condition, such as asthma.
- It has been correlated with improved cognitive function on several mentally demanding tests.
- Pure theobromine has been shown to increase HDL and decrease LDL cholesterol
And that’s just one compound! There are numerous others in chocolate that show many other beneficial effects. It’s possible that, through reducing oxidative stress, chocolate can increase insulin sensitivity and be heart protective beyond just lowering blood pressure.
It’s also packed with nutrients that aid in skin health and beauty! Manganese (abundant in chocolate), for example, is used in the production of collagen which helps keep skin looking youthful.
Of course, I have to be the bubble-burster here and say you can’t just go to your local grocer and pick up a standard milk chocolate bar and think you’re doing something good for yourself. Milk chocolate actually barely contains any real chocolate at all, unfortunately, and the big dose of sugar and fat you’re getting far outweighs any minuscule benefit from the tiny amount of cocoa in the bar.
Then you hear most people talking about dark chocolate. This is definitely a better option, as 80%+ dark chocolate bars will have enough of the good stuff in them to give you benefits if you have a serving or two per day. You still should be a label reader on this one – I’ve compared multiple different 80%+ chocolate bars and even though they may have enough cacao to give you benefits, some bars had 3x the amount of sugar added than others.
The rule of thumb here is that the closer to the source you get, the better for you it’ll be.
So cacao nibs (pieces of the cocoa bean shell) > cacao powder > dark chocolate bars >>>>>> milk chocolate.
But right now, a good quality cacao powder holds a special place in my heart simply because of the combination of versatility, health-promoting compounds, lower calories, and simultaneous deliciousness. Just take a look at these two labels: