20 Facts That Will Make You Feel Good About Eating More Chocolate

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Chocolate: You want it, you need it, you can’t live without it and it’s more precious than gold when you’re stressed out. But it’s also full of sugar, calories and saturated fat — in fact, some people might go as far as to say that it has no nutritional value at all. That might be true of milk and white chocolate, but dark chocolate lovers are in luck; dark chocolate containing at least 70 percent cacao has been linked to a myriad of health benefits, and now enjoys the title of “superfood” in many circles. If you want to feel justified about your dark, delicious chocolate habit, look no further than this list.

1. It contains flavonoids

According to the Cleveland Clinic, flavonoids help repair damage and protect plants from environmental toxins. Humans benefit from this antioxidant power when we eat foods rich in flavonoids, such as dark chocolate.

Jennifer McDaniel, MS, RD, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, tells Men’s Journal that the flavanols (a type of flavonoids) found in dark chocolate have been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce blood clots and boost blood flow.

2. It may protect against heart attack and stroke

A German study from 2010 found that one small square of dark chocolate per day can lower your blood pressure and reduce the risk of having a heart attack or stroke. After following almost 20,000 people for 10 years, researchers found that those who ate the most dark chocolate (an average of 7.5 grams a day) had a 39 percent lower risk of stroke or heart attack compared to those who ate the least chocolate.

3. It might make you smarter

In a 2007 study from England’s University of Nottingham, Professor Ian Macdonald discovered that people who drank cocoa rich in flavanols experienced a boost in blood flow to “key areas” of the brain for two to three hours. In addition to boosting general alertness, this might also increase performance at certain tasks.

4. It contains healthy fats

The fat in chocolate comes from cocoa butter, says the Cleveland Clinic, and is made up of equal parts oleic acid (which is a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat), stearic and palmitic acids. The latter two are saturated fats; however, according to the Cleveland Clinic, stearic acid seems to have a “neutral” effect on cholesterol — basically, it neither raises nor lowers it. The only fat in chocolate that raises cholesterol is palmitic acid, which makes up only a third of chocolate’s total fats.

5. It may help people with chronic fatigue syndrome

After eating 1.5 ounces of 85 percent dark chocolate every day for eight weeks, a group of adults with chronic fatigue syndrome reported feeling less fatigued, says WebMD. In addition, no weight gain was reported. Although more research needs to be done in this area, researchers told WebMD that the reason for the relief from fatigue might be that dark chocolate enhances neurotransmitters like serotonin, which helps regulate sleep and mood.

6. It may protect against diabetes

Another study cited by WebMD occurred in Italy. After feeding 15 healthy people either 3 ounces of dark chocolate or white chocolate for 15 days, researchers found that the dark chocolate group had significantly lowered insulin resistance (a risk factor for diabetes). According to Men’s Journal, the antioxidants in dark chocolate may help the body use its insulin “more efficiently.”

7. It lessens cravings…

… And this may help with weight loss! According to Women’s Health, researchers from the University of Copenhagen discovered that dark chocolate is more filling than milk and white chocolates, resulting a greater feeling of satiety. It also contains much more fiber.

8. It improves arterial blood flow

When healthy men in a study drank flavanol-rich cocoa, their blood vessels experienced a significant improvement in their ability to relax. This means better blood flow and increased heart health.

9. Our gut microbes love it

The good bacteria in our digestive tracts ferment both the antioxidants and fiber in cocoa, according to a study from Louisiana State University. Scientific American reports that this fermentation results in beneficial anti-inflammatory compounds.

10. It has less sugar than other chocolate

The more cocoa solids a piece of chocolate has, the less sugar it contains, according to Livestrong. Since a higher percentage of cacao also means more flavonoids, it’s a win-win. If you love the sweetness of chocolate, try gradually weaning yourself off the milkier bars and slowly increasing your intake of darker varieties.

11. It reduces the stress of pregnancy

Expectant mothers who ate chocolate every day during their pregnancy reported that they were able to handle stress better than pregnant women who ate no chocolate, according to Women’s Health. But what were the effects on the babies? If you’ll cast your eye down to the next item on this list, you’ll see that chocolate provides yet another pregnancy benefit.

12. It results in happier babies

A Finnish study found that the babies of women who ate chocolate daily during pregnancy were “happier and smiled more,” says Women’s Health.

13. It reduces stress for non-pregnant people

Earlier this year, Women’s Health reported on yet another study revealing the magical powers of chocolate, as a UC San Diego study revealed that when anxious people ate 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate a day for two weeks, their stress hormone levels were “significantly” reduced. The metabolic effects of stress were also “partially mitigated.” So when you’re feeling stressed out, there’s nothing wrong with nibbling on a little dark chocolate to ease the damaging effects.

14. It makes you more awake

The Royal Society of Chemistry reports that chocolate doesn’t actually contain caffeine — but it does contain theobromine, a compound that reduces sleepiness. It can produce a “jittery sensation” in high amounts, so if you eat too much chocolate, you’ll probably feel just as jumpy as if you’d had too much coffee.

15. It helps protect you from sunburn

Seriously. The Daily Mail reports that a recent study in London found that eating 20 grams of chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa solids every day for 12 weeks led to adults being able to withstand double the amount of UVB rays as people who ate “ordinary” (i.e., non-dark) chocolate before their skin began to turn red.

16. It eases diarrhea symptoms

A 2005 study conducted by the Children’s Hospital & Research Center in Oakland, Calif., confirmed the “ancient myth” that that chocolate can help ease the symptoms of diarrhea. According to the study, flavonoids found in cocoa beans limit the “development of fluids” that lead to intestinal unpleasantness.

17. It helps give you smoother skin

Remember those stress hormones that dark chocolate helps reduce? When it reduces stress hormones, it also leads to less collagen breakdown in the skin, says YouBeauty. This causes you to have firmer, smoother skin with fewer fine lines and wrinkles.

18. It repairs dry skin

Vitamins A, B1, C, D and E are all good for moisturizing the skin, and they’re all present in dark chocolate, according to the Huffington Post. The iron and calcium in dark chocolate also help replenish dry skin’s moisture, so don’t worry about your complexion when you eat dark chocolate — you’re actually helping improve it, as long as you don’t go crazy with the sugar.

19. It promotes hair growth

The copper, zinc and iron found in dark chocolate promote the cell renewal growth process, according to the Huffington Post; this increases oxygen and blood flow to the scalp. Eat more chocolate and grow that healthy hair!

20. It makes you happier

Chocolate not only releases endorphins in the brain; it also contains anandamide, aka the bliss molecule. This neurotransmitter, produced naturally in the brain, binds to the same receptors in the brain as marijuana, resulting in a short-term burst of pleasure.