During a recent radio interview, the presenter came out with the following statement: "You won't make me give up chocolate will you?".
The nutritionist part of my brain was automatically flashing red. How can you diplomatically answer such a question? Yes, the average bar of chocolate is more sugar than cocoa, but the darker varieties can be advantageous.
Chocolate may not be quite as good for you as salad, but there is some evidence that it may not be entirely bad either.
Here is some science on the benefits:
It increases brain power
A recent study published in the journal Appetite found chocolate to be beneficial for cognition (1). Subjects that regularly consumed chocolate fared better on several tests such as “working memory” and “abstract reasoning” amongst others.
Whether or not this study was inspired by the average office on any given afternoon isn’t clear, but what it does prove is that chocolate boosts brain power.
It protects your ticker
A review paper by the University of Freiburg, Germany, concluded that specific compounds within cocoa may be beneficial for the heart (2).
Flavanols and epicatechins found in chocolate are thought to exert a blood pressure lowering effect by encouraging the blood vessels to relax.
If you think that’s too good to be true then here is the best part: to get a sufficient quantity of these compounds 100g (or a full bar) of chocolate is required.
The only caveat is to pick a high-quality dark chocolate since sugar has an opposing effect.
It’s a good source of iron
Vegetarians and vegans rejoice: dark chocolate is a more abundant source of iron than meat.
In fact, research by the Molise University, Italy, found 90% dark chocolate to contain three times as much iron as beef gram for gram. (3)
For best results, combine a few squares of dark chocolate with Vitamin C containing foods such as kiwi or oranges since Vitamin C improves iron uptake.
It’s a natural SPF
It is not suggested that you forgo suncream, however, researchers at The University of Quebec, Canada, found convincing evidence that high cocoa chocolate may offer some protection against sunburn (4).
According to this study, just 40g of dark chocolate per day increases the skin’s resilience against sun damage. Unsurprisingly, milk chocolate doesn’t exert the same effect.
It makes you feel good
This isn’t exactly new knowledge since any self-confessed chocoholic will tell you that, yes, chocolate does indeed make you feel good.
The science on the connection between mood and chocolate consumption was, however, lacking. This is until the clever scientists at Gettysburg College conducted a study.
They proved that chocolate does indeed increase mood, particularly if it is eaten “mindfully”. By paying attention to the chocolate that you are eating, instead of scoffing it down whilst multitasking, positive mood is amplified.
Please enjoy chocolate responsibly. Life is about balance so don't dodge the salad.
(1) Crichton GE, Eliasb MF, Alkerwid A (2016) Chocolate intake is associated with better cognitive function: The Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study. Appetite,100: 126-132.
(2)Vlachojannis J, Erne P, Zimmermann B, Chrubasik-Hausmann S (2016) The impact of cocoa flavanols on cardiovascular health. Phytotherapy Research, 30: 1641-1657.
(3) Cinquanta L, Di Cesare C, Manoni R, Piano A, Roberti P, Salvatori G (2016) Mineral essential elements for nutrition in different chocolate products.International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 67: 773-778.
(4) Mogollon JA, Boivin C, Lemieux S, Blanchet C, Claveau J, Dodin S (2014) Chocolate flavanols and skin photoprotection: a parallel, double-blind, randomized clinical trial.Nutrition Journal, 13: 66.
(5) Meier BP, Noll SW, Molokwu OJ (2017) The sweet life: The effect of mindful chocolate consumption on mood.Appetite, doi: 10.1016/ j.appet.2016.09.018.