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Good News for Chocolate Lovers

It could help sharpen thinking skills and boost heart health.

Young man eating chocolate

Medically reviewed in June 2021

Updated on March 10, 2022

I have an ongoing love affair with chocolate. Well, it’s actually more of a love/hate relationship.

Once I start eating chocolate, I just can’t stop. Needless to say, I am always looking for health reasons to justify my consumption and at the same time to keep me from overindulging.

Luckily, there is evidence that chocolate may have health benefits. In a 2012 study published in Hypertension, a group of Italian researchers enlisted 90 elderly patients with mild cognitive impairment. These participants were randomly assigned to drink one of three cocoa beverages every day. The beverages contained cocoa flavanols of different amounts: high, intermediate, or low, but they were otherwise nearly identical. (Flavanols are the healthy antioxidants in chocolate.)

Using a series of tests, the researchers measured the participants’ thinking skills. By the end of the two-month study, those who had been drinking the high- and intermediate-flavanol drinks completed tests more quickly. Their verbal fluency improved as well, but the high flavanol group improved the most.

Those who drank the high- and intermediate-flavanol beverages also showed a decrease in insulin resistance and blood pressure. Their total cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL (aka “bad” cholesterol) started to shift in a healthy direction, as well.

It is doubtful that Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure will be cured by chocolate alone. But studies like this one suggest that a small amount of chocolate a day along with exercise and a healthy eating plan might help.

How to choose healthier chocolate
Healthy flavanols are most concentrated in dark chocolate, so that kind is probably your best bet if you’re seeking health benefits. Look for chocolate that has a cocoa content of 70 percent or higher. Remember that chocolate is also high in calories, so moderation is key. Try keeping your treat to around one ounce.

And bear in mind that chocolate is not a new phenomenon. Our ancestors have been wise to its powers and properties for millennia. In fact, chocolate has been used for medicinal purposes for over 5,300 years. Now science is starting to make sense of why.

So, chocolate lovers, take heart in making dark chocolate a part of your overall healthy eating plan. Just take it a little at a time!

Article sources open article sources

Desideri G, Kwik-Uribe C, Grassi D, Necozione S, Ghiadoni L, Mastroiacovo D, Raffaele A, Ferri L, Bocale R, Lechiara MC, Marini C, Ferri C. Benefits in cognitive function, blood pressure, and insulin resistance through cocoa flavanol consumption in elderly subjects with mild cognitive impairment: the Cocoa, Cognition, and Aging study. Hypertension. September 2012.
Katz DL, Doughty K, Ali A. Cocoa and chocolate in human health and disease. Antioxid Redox Signal. November 15, 2011.
Harvard T.H. School of Public Health. Dark Chocolate. Accessed June 30, 2021.
Cleveland Clinic. Heart Healthy Benefits of Chocolate. Accessed June 30, 2021.
Colin Barras. World’s oldest chocolate was made 5300 years ago—in a South American rainforest. Science Magazine. October 29, 2018.

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