We all love eating chocolate and now there’s even more reason for it to put a smile on our face.
Increasing evidence suggests that our once guilty pleasure can actually have health benefits, which is just as well, considering the average Brit scoffs a whopping 196g – the equivalent of six Cadbury’s Flakes – every week.
One theory why we love chocolate so much is that a brain-active chemical called phenylethylamine in cocoa allegedly stimulates the same reaction that we experience when we’re falling in love.
Another is that we crave it in an unconscious bid to top up magnesium – a mineral that helps bolster against stress – but the evidence is thin on the ground.
“There’s actually little evidence that chocolate is truly addictive in any physical sense,” says registered dietician Elphee Medici.
“It’s more likely the uniquely seductive combination of aroma, sweetness and texture, and the fact we associate it with pleasure and reward that makes us love it so much.”
In other words, it tastes great and can do us some good too, as long as you choose the right types and don’t go too mad (most health experts recommend that we stick to about 30g of chocolate a day, or six small squares).
In celebration of National Chocolate Week (8-14 October), here are 10 reasons to tuck in:
1 It may help lower blood pressure
Flavanols found in cocoa beans aid production of nitric oxide, which stimulates blood vessels to dilate.
One analysis of 850 mainly healthy participants found that flavanol-rich chocolate and cocoa products had a small but statistically significant effect in lowering blood pressure in the short term.
Processing can lower flavonol content, so for best effect try a traditional cocoa drink made with “non-alkalised” beans (£3.50 for 125g from )
2 It might help to keep you smart
A nice mug of cocoa might also help an ageing brain, a recent study in the journal Hypertension found. Elderly participants who received high flavonol chocolate drinks had improved mental performance after eight weeks.
3 It doesn’t give you spots after all
“This is a myth”, says Elphee.
“No one food that can cause acne, though there is some evidence that an unhealthy diet in general – high in refined carbohydrates, low in fruit and vegetables – may be a factor.”
Interestingly, both dark and milk chocolate have a relatively low glycaemic index, having a more favourable effect on blood sugar and insulin – and, potentially, your skin – than other sweet foods like sugary drinks or marshmallows.
4 It could help protect against heart attacks and strokes
Chocolate is high in saturated fat, but the particular type – stearic acid – predominant in cocoa butter does not raise cholesterol like other saturates.
Research at Cambridge University found that people consuming the most chocolate had a 37% lower risk of heart disease and a 29% lower risk of stroke than those who consumed less chocolate.
However, this “high” intake only amounted to 63g a week, and study author Dr Oscar Franco, urges: “Chocolate may be beneficial, but it should be eaten in a moderate way, not in large quantities and not in binges.”