7 Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate, According to Science

DARK CHOCOLATE. WE’LL take it however we can get it—kisses, squares, bars…straight from a dessert fountain. Luckily, there are myriad reasons that make this treat nearly guilt-free (in moderation, of course.)

You know it’s healthier than its white and milk varieties. One ounce is chock-full of antioxidants and flavanols, vitamins and nutrients, but there are lesser-known reasons you should indulge in the (bitter) sweet stuff.

Dark chocolate has been scientifically proven to keep your brain sharp, your ticker ticking and your skin shielded from the sun’s harmful rays (yes, really.) A new study from Northern Arizona University also found dark chocolate can be the key to beating that midday slump. Find out how else dark chocolate can boost your health.

It Can Lower Body Mass Index

The frequent consumption of small quantities of dark chocolate is linked to lower BMI, according to a study published in the Journal Internal Medicine. Chocolate consumption frequency (via a questionnaire) and BMI (weight divided by height in meters squared) were analyzed among 1,018 men and women aged 20 to 85. Mood, activity per 7-day period, fruit and vegetable intake and saturated fat intake were considered and factored into the researchers analysis as well. All in all, the correlation between chocolate consumption and low BMI upheld. The mean age of subjects was 57, of which 68 percent were male, with a BMI of 28 who ate dark chocolate two times per week and exercised about 3.5 times per week.

It Boosts Brain Power

Have a big meeting, test or dinner with the in-laws? Eating dark chocolate can give your brain a short-term boost—increasing your alertness—for two to three hours, a University of Nottingham study found. Flavanols, one of dark chocolate’s key components, dilates blood vessels, allowing more oxygen and blood to reach key areas of the brain, which can help you soldier against fatigue and the effects of aging. The study participants consumed a flavanol-rich cocoa drink, but you can eat dark chocolate by itself—or any foods high in flavanols like red wine, green tea and blueberries.

It Can Improve Eyesight

Forget carrots. Dark chocolate can improve your eyesight too, according to research published in the journal Physiology & Behavior. The researchers found that participants who consumed dark chocolate with 720 mg of cocoa flavanols experienced enhanced visual performance—like detecting motion and reading low contrast letters—likely due to the increased blood flow to the retina and brain.

It Reduces Inflammation

After you scarf it, “good” microbes in your gut feast on the chocolate, fermenting it into anti-inflammatory compounds that are good for your heart, according to research presented at the 2014 American Chemical Society meeting. Antioxidants and fiber present in cocoa powder aren’t fully digested until they reach the colon where the compounds are absorbed into the body, lessening inflammation within cardiovascular tissue and reducing long-term risk of stroke.

It Can Protect Your Skin

Aside from sunscreen, you may want to chow down on dark chocolate every day to protect your skin against harmful UV rays, according to research from the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology.But not just any old dark chocolate—it needs to be specially produced with preserved high flavanol levels (manufacturing processes destroy the integrity of flavanols).

It Lowers Blood Pressure

If you have slightly elevated blood pressure, a bite of dark chocolate a day can improve blood flow and bring blood pressure levels down, according to research from the Journal of the American Medical Association. Cocoa polyphenols helped drop the prevalence of hypertension from 86 percent to 68 percent in participants (44 total) aged 56 through 73 who consumed about 6 grams of dark chocolate (containing 30 mg of polyphenols) per day for 18 weeks.

It Raises Good Cholesterol (HDL)

Polyphenols in cocoa powder and dark chocolate can favorably—though modestly—reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering bad cholesterol (LDL) and raising the antioxidant capacity of good cholesterol (HDL), according to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

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