Valentine’s Day is right around the corner. Do you know what you’re getting your sweetheart?
On this holiday many of us immediately turn to chocolate, that indulgent treat that’s oh so delicious but loaded with sugar, fat, and calories. Long associated with indulgence and, thus, considered something to be avoided, chocolate has become a health-research buzzword recently, and evidence has emerged suggesting it may be more healthful than previously thought. In the past five years, a host of studies have been published showing the positive effects this sweet treat can have on health—everything from lower rates of stroke, blood pressure, and coronary heart disease to improved cholesterol, insulin resistance, and weight control (really!).
Why is chocolate good for you?
Sure, for starters, chocolate tastes good. But there are substances in this snack that do good things for your body. Chocolate contains polyphenols, which are antioxidants that have been shown to increase muscle performance and lean muscle mass in animal studies, and some researchers suspect that polyphenols have a positive metabolic effect on (human) chocolate lovers, too. A 2012 study published in Archives of Internal Medicine found that people who reported eating chocolate several times per week had lower body mass indexes and weighed less than people who did not regularly consume chocolate. Flavanols are another micronutrient in chocolate (as well as grapes, tea, and apples) that are beneficial to health. In particular, one flavanol found in cocoa, epicatechin, triggers a response in the body that makes blood vessels more flexible, which improves blood flow through the body.
Are some kinds of chocolate better than others?
Good news: You may not need to limit yourself to a plain boring chocolate-and-nothing-else bar: A 2011 meta-analysis of seven chocolate-focused studies published in the British medical journal BMJ found that chocolate in the form of candy bars, cookies and desserts, chocolate drinks, and nutritional supplements all showed health benefits. But to reap those benefits, consistency is key: it’s more beneficial to eat a small portion several times a week than to overindulge in chocolate in one sitting. The lead author of the BMJ meta-analysis, who said via the New York Times that “Chocolate may be beneficial, but it should be eaten in a moderate way, not in large quantities and not in binges,” and that “If it is consumed in large quantities, any beneficial effect is going to disappear.”