Science says that chocolate is healthy, because the universe loves you and wants you to be happy. Let’s take a walk through the science and learn how to justify chocolate for breakfast. (Almost.)
The health benefits of chocolate are concentrated in cacao, the bean that’s ground and processed to make cocoa powder. The cacao bean contains significant amounts of flavanols, plant nutrients that act as antioxidants to kill free radicals in your bloodstream. (Free radicals are damaging oxidants, hence the power of antioxidants to improve health.) This leads to lower blood pressure and decreased risk of stroke and heart attack.
In 2012, a study of elderly subjects with mild cognitive impairment looked at the effects of different amounts of cocoa flavanol consumption. Those that consumed 990mg per day performed better on cognitive tests than those that only consumed 45mg per day. Beyond the brain, subjects also demonstrated lower blood pressure and insulin resistance (the blood sugar response that can lead to diabetes).
The benefits stretch far beyond one study. A meta-analysis of 42 studies assessing the link between cocoa flavanols and cardiovascular health was so positive that it not only supported previous conclusions—it found additional benefits that hadn’t been noticed yet. Researchers found decreased insulin resistance, blood pressure, and LDL (bad) cholesterol, as well as increased HDL (good) cholesterol and flow-mediated dilatation (medical speak for healthy veins and blood flow).
Doctor, we’re ready for a chocolate prescription. Harvard neuroscientist Dr. Miguel Alonso-Alonso recommends that people get 200mg of cocoa flavanols daily. While most bars don’t disclose the flavanol amount, higher cacao content means higher flavanol content, so look for a bar that’s at least 70% cacao (like Dick Taylor Belize 72% or Theo Pure 85% Dark Chocolate).