You may think of chocolate as a decadent indulgence and nutritional no-no, but more and more research confirms that this treat offers a healthy dose of preventative medicine. A new study by the University of California, San Diego found that frequent chocolate eaters weigh less, despite consuming more calories. How can that be?
The key may be chocolate’s powerful antioxidants. Other recent research from the University of Florida suggests that people who take in more antioxidants from food have less body fat, weigh less and have smaller waistlines, even when they don’t eat fewer calories. That’s one of the reasons I devote an entire chapter to my love for chocolate in my newest book "S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches" and why a "Daily Dark Chocolate Escape" is a mandatory snack in the book’s weight loss plan. Here are four more reasons to build chocolate into your diet every single day:
Heart HealthThe antioxidants in cocoa trigger the walls of your blood vessels to relax, lowering blood pressure and improving circulation. That means better delivery of oxygen and nutrients to every cell, and less stress on the heart. That may be why, in one study, a group of heart-attack survivors who ate chocolate just twice a week over a two-year period cut their risk of dying from heart disease threefold. In addition, natural substances in chocolate help prevent cholesterol from sticking to your artery walls, reducing your risk of heart attack and stroke. And the type of saturated fat in dark chocolate isn’t the same as the artery-clogging saturated fat in a hamburger or whole milk. It’s a unique variety called stearic acid, much of which gets converted in the body to oleic acid, a heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acid or “MUFA.” This is the same type of “good” fat found in extra virgin olive oil.
Appetite ControlCompared to milk chocolate eaters, those who downed dark chocolate ate 15 percent fewer calories without even trying and reported fewer cravings for sweet, salty and fatty foods. Chocolate’s intoxicating scent may also play a role in curbing food intake. A new study published in the journal Flavour found that enjoying aromatic foods may be a powerful weight loss strategy. When test subjects had the ability to control their own dessert portions, they ate 5 to 10 percent less of more aromatic samples. The stronger the smell, the smaller the bite, and chocolate is certainly a feast for the olfactory senses.
Stress ManagementDark chocolate has been shown to help correct imbalances in the body related to stress, and can significantly reduce levels of stress hormones. That’s key because a surge in stress hormones is linked to gaining more belly fat — the most dangerous type of fat you carry. Excess belly fat is tied to a greater risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers and Alzheimer’s. Dark chocolate also contains magnesium, a mineral that can help alleviate PMS symptoms, including cramps, water retention, fatigue, depression and irritability.
Brain BenefitsDark chocolate offers a caffeine kick, but not too much. One ounce of 70 percent dark contains about 40 milligrams of caffeine, compared to 200 milligrams in eight ounces of brewed coffee and 120 milligrams in strong black tea. In addition to caffeine, chocolate contains the same type of antioxidants found in red wine and tea, which have been shown to boost brain activity and improve performance on challenging brain teasers. Finally, dark chocolate’s unique natural substances trigger a sense of euphoria, similar to the feeling of being in love.
When shopping for chocolate, just be sure to look for one that’s 70 percent cocoa or greater to maximize the antioxidant benefits. Enjoy it without distraction, and savor every morsel guilt-free, knowing it’s a smart way to take care of yourself.