Chocolate, with its sweet intoxicating richness, has inspired romantics for centuries. It is certainly the perfect gift – along with, of course! But beyond just the happy face of those who indulge, chocolate can provide many health benefits, including: better heart health, lower blood pressure, reduced risk of stroke, improved cholesterol profiles, a smarter brain, reduced risk of diabetes, and healthier skin.
Now the chocolate that I am talking about is the real stuff, dark chocolate of at least 60 to 70%, which is generally not found in most candy isles. The added sugar and degenerated trans-fats added to overly-processed chocolate bars often negate its many health benefits. Actually, most candy bars do not even contain much real chocolate in them at all, so it pays to read the label. It is also good to seek out chocolate that is both organic, thus avoiding harmful chemicals, as well as fair-trade so as to guarantee that the farmers are getting paid well for their effort
Dark chocolate is a very nutrient dense food, containing many important vitamins and minerals such as vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, C, E, pantothenic acid, magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc, copper, potassium and manganese. It is composed of about 20% protein and upwards of 50% good quality fat. Much of chocolate’s health benefits are attributed to powerful antioxidants, called flavanols, which help improve blood circulation.
Studies have shown that regular chocolate consumption: softens the skin, protects the skin against the damaging effects of the sun, improves microcirculation to the deeper layers of the skin, rehydrates the skin, and improves the overall cosmetic appearance of the skin – thus giving it a nice radiant look. But again, these benefits are only from good quality dark chocolate, not those overly-sugared candy bars.
In clinic I use cocoa butter in some of the creams that I hand make for my patients to apply directly to their skin, usually combining it with shea butter, another thick plant-derived oil. The two saturated fats help lock moisture into the skin, as well as offer nourishment. In contrast, petroleum based products – such as vaseline – offer no nourishment whatsoever, and in fact may occlude the skin too much so that it cannot breathe properly.
So how much chocolate does one need to eat in order to obtain its healthy benefits? Well, research seems to indicate that about 50 grams per week of good quality 70% dark chocolate is enough, which is about half of a standard sized bar like Green and Blacks, or Camino. Basically, chocolate is best used as a small enjoyable supplement alongside a properly balanced diet containing a wide variety of fresh colourful vegetables, whole grains and quality proteins. Now your indulgences may be healthy as well.