While nutritionists generally recommend that you stay away from sweets if you’re on a good fitness plan, eating treats like dark chocolate in moderation actually has some health benefits that may surprise you. Pair the dark chocolate with some red wine, and you’ll double up on your dose of heart-healthy flavonoids, while indulging your taste buds and still staying fit.
Chocolate is made from the seed of the cacao tree and is rich in flavonols, which appear to be heart healthy. What are flavonols? They are simply phytochemicals found in plants, which are also sometimes also called flavonoids. Although scientists are not completely sure how chocolate reduces the risk of heart disease, research suggests that these flavonols help lower blood pressure, improve vascular function and may even prevent some of the cellular damage that appears to lead to heart disease.
In a study reported in Hypertension (2012) eating dark chocolate has also been linked to improved brain function in elderly subjects with mild cognitive impairment. According to the study, the improvement appeared mediated in part by an improvement in insulin sensitivity. This supports other research that suggests moderate cocoa consumption may also reduce the risk of diabetes.
Because Cocoa is a plant-based food, it contains fiber and minerals that have multiple health benefits, in addition to flavonols. Yet, to get the health benefits of eating dark chocolate, it’s important to choose varieties that contain less sugar and unhealthy fats. This means avoiding milk chocolate and white chocolate, and instead eating dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa content. Choosing varieties with natural ingredients and avoiding hydrogenated fats is also important.
Getting back to that glass of wine… wine often gets attention for being heart-healthy in moderation because of the flavonols; however, you now know that this is the very same reason that eating dark chocolate can be heart-healthy. So it’s OK to enjoy a glass of wine and eat a piece of chocolate occasionally, in moderation of course, which means about an ounce of chocolate and a 5-ounce glass of wine.