More great reasons to eat chocolate

National Chocolate Week celebrates chocolate’s history, taste and health benefits.

  • Chocolate contains antioxidants that protect your cells and help them repair damage.
  • Eating a small amount of dark chocolate regularly can help lower your blood pressure and improve your cholesterol levels.
  • Dark chocolate contains several essential nutrients including iron, copper, zinc and magnesium.

[3 MIN READ]

Move over green beer and leprechauns. Take a breather Earth Day. National Chocolate Week is claiming its spot as the sweetest holiday in March.

Running throughout the third full week of March every year, #NationalChocolateWeek showcases chocolate—from its history and uses to the numerous health benefits it provides.

So, roll out some chocolate truffles. Bake a batch of chewy double chocolate cookies. Toast the first day of spring with a mug of hot chocolate. It’s a delicious way to celebrate. And it could even be good for you.

How it’s made

Chocolate starts out as a pod from the cacao tree that contains seeds covered with a fruity, white pulp. To make cocoa beans, the pulp is removed, fermented and roasted. The shells of the cocoa beans are then separated from the meat (cocoa nibs) and the cocoa nibs are then ground into liquid (chocolate liquor). The product is further refined by separating the chocolate solids and the fat (cocoa butter) so it can be used in a wide variety of tasty treats. Researchers believe any health benefits derived from chocolate stem from the chocolate solids.

The chocolate we tend to eat undergoes additional processing, during which varying amounts of chocolate solids and cocoa butter are combined with other ingredients—like sugar or milk—depending on the type of chocolate being produced.

Kinds of chocolate

There are three main types of chocolate:

  • White chocolate is not considered “real” chocolate by many chocolate purists. It blends cocoa butter with sugar, milk solids, vanilla and other ingredients. White chocolate does not contain any cocoa solids.
  • Milk chocolate is the most popular type of eating chocolate. It typically contains between 10 – 50 percent cocoa liquor and is usually light brown, sweet and creamy.
  • Dark chocolate has a higher proportion of cocoa solids and chocolate liquor than the other types of chocolate, averaging between 50 – 90 percent. Depending on its intended use, dark chocolate may also contain milk fat and sugar as well as vanilla and other ingredients.

Health benefits of chocolate

Most dark chocolate is loaded with flavonoids, which contain antioxidants to protect your cells and boost their ability to repair cell and DNA damage. Flavanols are the main type of flavonoid found in chocolate and cocoa. Research shows flavanols could have important antioxidant properties as well as the potential to improve your health in several ways.

Most dark chocolate is loaded with flavonoids, which contain antioxidants to protect your cells and boost their ability to repair cell and DNA damage.

Here are five ways eating chocolate could actually be good for you. In all cases, the health benefits apply to eating dark chocolate with at least 70 percent or higher cacao content.

Dark chocolate may lower your risk of heart disease and stroke

Multiple studies show that eating a small amount of dark chocolate regularly can help lower your blood pressure, improve your cholesterol levels and make your blood flow more easily. The antioxidant effect of dark chocolate’s high flavonoid content may reduce the cell damage that can contribute to heart disease.

Brain function and memory show improvement with chocolate consumption

Chocolate enhances your brain’s neuroplasticity—its ability to change and adapt—to produce a positive effect on your brain function, memory and mood, according to recent research.

Chocolate could reduce your risk of developing diabetes

It may sound crazy, but eating healthy amounts of chocolate could actually improve how your body processes sugar. One study found the flavonoids in dark chocolate reduced insulin resistance, a major indicator of diabetes. Another study determined that participants who rarely ate chocolate had roughly twice the risk of developing diabetes compared to participants who consumed chocolate at least once a week.

Be aware, however, of the sugar content in the chocolate you are consuming. Whether you have diabetes or not, it’s important to not overdo it.

Chocolate promotes gut health

Research indicates that chocolate behaves like a prebiotic, which is a type of fiber that encourages healthy bacteria in your digestive system. With enough good bacteria, your body is better equipped to absorb nutrients and regulate your metabolism.

Research indicates that chocolate behaves like a prebiotic, which is a type of fiber that encourages healthy bacteria in your digestive system. 

If you have stomach issues, be sure to monitor any symptoms or irritations that may be caused by eating chocolate and discuss them with your doctor.

Chocolate contains vital nutrients

Dark chocolate is rich in several essential nutrients including iron, fiber, copper, zinc, phosphorus and magnesium, according to published research. Nutrient levels vary widely between brands. Check the label to determine exactly what’s included in your chocolate of choice.

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Find a doctor

The team at Providence can help you develop healthy eating habits that support your health goals. Our nutrition experts work with you and your doctor to give you the tools you need for dietary success. Find a doctor using our provider directory. Or you can search for a primary care doctor in your area.

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Extend the #chocolate celebration by sharing your plans for National Chocolate Week with readers @psjh.

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional’s instructions.

About the Author

The Providence Body & Mind Team is dedicated to providing medically-sound, data-backed insights and advice on how to reach and maintain your optimal health through a mixture of exercise, mindfulness, preventative care and healthy living in general.

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