10 Reasons to Fall in Love with Dark Chocolate
Chocoholics, eat (and drink) to your health.
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It’s true: rich, velvety smooth dark chocolate is actually good for you. If enjoyed in moderation and in its own semi-natural state (sorry yummy caramel and crunchy pretzels), it can provide numerous health benefits. Sure, it may not be as sweet as creamy milk chocolate, but it’s not loaded with other fats and sugars.
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And since everyone, partnered-up or not, will likely enjoy chocolate on Valentine’s Day, celebrate the most important person in your life (hint: it’s you).
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Think it’s too good to be true? We beg to differ, which is why we asked several experts to weigh in on why we should love the not-so-sweet stuff. Be mindful of the calorie count, aim for the highest quality, and most importantly, enjoy every single, luscious bite:
It's a Mood Booster
Feeling blue? Enjoy a healthier take of this beloved treat to melt away stress, which is something everyone should smile about. A 2013 study published by the Journal of Psychopharmacology reveals that those who drank a “polyphenol-rich chocolate drink” or 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate, felt calmer and more serene than those who didn’t. And we couldn’t think of a more blissful way to unwind with this luscious, mouthwatering dessert.
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It Gives Your Heart Some Love
“A 2010 study demonstrated that women who ate 1-2 servings of chocolate in a week had a significantly lower risk of developing heart failure by 32 percent,” explains Dr. Laxmi Mehta, cardiologist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. However, do note that too much of a good thing won't work wonders. “The study also shows that those who ate it daily didn’t appear to benefit,” Mehta points out. It’s recommended to savor a small amount of high-quality dark chocolate up to three times a month to help ward off heart failure and prevent consuming excess calories.
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It Helps You Lose Weight
Can eating dark chocolate actually help you shed those pesky pounds? According to some experts, the answer is a delightful yes. “A small amount of dark chocolate every now and then can slow down digestion so you feel fuller longer and eat less at your next meal,” explains Franci Cohen, a New York City-based fitness instructor. “Dark chocolate is full of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), which studies have linked to increased metabolic rate. It also helps control cravings.” However, the trick is not to overdo it. Like with any kind of food, moderation is crucial to avoid packing on the calories. One dietician suggests two large tasting squares of 70 percent cacao or greater. Of course, this also means you'll need to cut down on your other guilty pleasures you may be snacking on throughout the day, but who's complaining?
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It Combats a Sweet Tooth
“In my practice, I use dark chocolate as a tool to tame a powerful sweet tooth,” says Cindy Moustafa, a New York City-based nutritionist. “I simply give a ‘diet prescription’ to have 1-2 squares of good quality dark chocolate after dinner, or whenever your ‘high-risk’ crave time is. My clients not only report that the dark chocolate satisfies their sweet tooth, but they actually binge eat less at night. “If you’re a binger, it’s much harder to eat an entire bar of dark chocolate than it is with milk chocolate because of the intense, almost bitter taste.” Moustafa personally enjoys those from Green & Black, Lindt, and Scharffen Berger brands. “I recommend starting with 75% and building your tolerance up to 85% or even 90%, which is what I eat.” If you’re tempted to eat an entire bar, consider buying individually wrapped dark chocolates so you’re better aware of how much is being eaten.
It Can Give You Better-Looking Skin
Contrary to popular belief, chocolate alone doesn’t cause blemishes. Dr. Julia Tzu, clinical professor of dermatology at New York University School of Medicine, says that its ingredients, like milk and sugar that can trigger acne. However, pure dark chocolate features one thing that can actually help improve your appearance. “Cocoa beans actually have one of the highest levels of antioxidants amongst all foods,” says Tzu. “Studies on the antioxidant properties of cocoa have shown protection against UV radiation on the skin, improved circulation, and enhanced skin hydration.” Sadly, dark chocolate should never replace daily use of sunscreen to ward off damaging sun rays and prevent premature aging. However, the higher the percentage of dark chocolate, the more benefits it holds for you.
It Improves Insulin and Blood Pressure
"Whereas devouring milk chocolate bars can become a surefire path to diabetes, dark chocolate can actually improve blood sugar levels,” says celebrity nutritionist JJ Virgin. “A 2012 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that dark chocolate decreases blood pressure and improves insulin sensitivity.” While researchers note more studies are needed to further explore the cardiovascular benefits of cocoa, Virgin encourages treating yourself to this yummy treat once in a while. “Dark chocolate isn’t a more-is-better food, particular for anyone with blood sugar issues,” she stresses.
It Makes You Feel Full Longer
We get it, fighting those pesky cravings can be difficult if you’re feeling hungry all the time. To minimize those annoying aches, Carol Cottrill, author of “The French Twist: Twelve Secrets of Decadent Dining and Natural Weight Management” recommends enjoying a piece or two of the highest quality dark chocolate you find. “Dark chocolate’s bitter taste helps the body regulate appetite and the high levels of cocoa help slow digestion, making the stomach feel full longer,” she says. “For me, nothing short of this prescription for pleasure will keep off the pounds.”
It Enhances Concentration
Need to perk up in the morning? Consider giving that cup of coffee a break for feel-good dark cocoa. “Dark chocolate boosts serotonin and endorphin levels, which are associated with greater concentration,” adds Natalie Stephens, clinical dietician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “It’s also a source of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, such as potassium, copper, and magnesium, which can work with a healthy diet to control blood pressure. It’s also lower in fat and sugar than milk or white chocolate, which is better for diabetics and really anyone interested in cutting back on sugar intake.”
It Sweetens Up Special Occasions
Who doesn’t love chocolate-covered strawberries? Sadly, this sinfully delicious dessert can pack on the pounds, especially if fatty milk chocolate is used. Virgin recommends swapping it with high quality dark chocolate, which will cut down on sugar and calories, but still remain a rich and mouthwatering pairing for ripe, juicy strawberries. “Heat ½ cup of melted dark chocolate chips and 1 ½ tablespoons organic cream until just melted,” says Virgin. “Stir and remove from heat. Individually dunk medium-sized strawberries in the melted chocolate. Set each side on waxed or parchment paper to dry.” For an added crunch, Virgin likes to also add finely chopped almonds.
It May Improve Brain Function
Cozying up with a mug of hot cocoa on a wintry night can be the best thing ever, but now it can also help you look forward to getting older. A 2013 study states that chocolate may help improve brain health and thinking skills in the elderly. Researchers discovered that those who drank two cups of cocoa every day for a month had improved blood flow to the brain, performing better on memory tests. While more studies are needed to better understand the role dark chocolate versus regular chocolate plays in improved brain function, dietitians prefer dark chocolate as it provides more overall benefits than typical fatty bars. And you can never start too early.