The key ingredient in the world’s more favorite and naughtiest indulgences – cocoa – has been scientifically deemed an A-list healthy superfood!
AND. It can even do a body good when you shamelessly have it for breakfast.
Okay, Alright, Alright, Okay, alrightokayalright…so Cocoa Puffs and instant Dunkin Heinz don’t quite make the cut, thanks to all the not-so-healthy additions thrown into the mix. BUT. That doesn’t mean that all sorts of other oh-so-delicious chocolaty-smothered life-as-dessert items like THESE don’t deserve to proudly be devoured down to the very last crumb at the breakfast table.
Grab a dipping spoon and find out why…
1. Chocolate Helps Chisel Away Body Fat
A 15-day study that gave subjects 3 ounces of chocolate to eat per day cut the likelihood of insulin resistance – a major risk factor for obesity and diabetes – in half. Also, healthy fats found in cocoa butter were found to help prevent blood sugar spikes, to control appetite and to reduce fat synthesis in the body.
Other studies show that chocolate consumption decreases gene expression of impaired fat formation, reduces the absorption of fats and carbohydrates in the body, decreases appetite and cravings, and reduces the measurement of abdominal fat.
Moreover, a recent Tel Aviv University study promoted breakfast as a good a time as any to indulge in this incredible superfood, as the researchers revealed that eating higher calorie foods at the beginning of the day (rather than at the end) is far more conducive to weight loss. Lead researcher Dr. Daniela Jakubowicz claims that having a chocolate indulgence top of the morning could actually help to stave off cravings for it later in the night, which is when fattier foods can do a lot more damage to your waist line.
2. Chocolate Boosts Brain Power
A long-term study from Syracuse University gaged the chocolate consumption of 928 participants and monitored the resulting cognitive effects on measures such as visual-spatial memory and organization, working memory, global composite performance, scanning and tracking, similarities tests and mini-mental state evaluations. All cognitive scores were substantially higher for people who consumed chocolate at least once per week, compared to people who rarely or never consumed chocolate.
Another Northumbria University study gave 30 volunteers hot cocoa and then asked them, along with others who had not drank the beverage, to count backwards in groups of 3 from 999 to 800. The hot chocolate drinkers were able to count faster and more accurately, which the researchers chocked up to be due to an increase of blood flow to the brain, caused by a chocolate compound called flavanol.
Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Woman’s Hospital obtained similar results when seniors with impaired blood flow to the brain were given hot cocoa to drink for 30 days, twice a day. The cocoa drinking participants experienced an 8.3 percent boost in blood flow to the brain, and demonstrated a 30 percent increase in memory and thinking abilities.
3. Chocolate Lowers Blood Pressure
Cacao’s cardiovascular benefits include lowering blood pressure, reducing vascular inflammation, improving arterial blood flow and decreasing bad cholesterol levels. Dark chocolate eaters were found to have lower systolic blood pressure, more relaxed blood arteries and less vascular clotting than non-eaters. Studies out of John Hopkins University School of Medicine concluded that just a few squares of chocolate a day could reduce the risk of death from a heart attack by 50 percent.
4. Chocolate Pumps Up Your Workout Results
A 2011 study published in the European Journal of Nutrition reported that exercisers who consumed dark chocolate before a workout were better able to control their blood glucose levels and had more energy to maintain their training intensity. They also showed higher insulin levels and less oxidative stress, which is better for driving more successful muscle growth and enhanced muscle recovery.
Another study showed that drinking chocolate milk after a workout also proved to be an ideal recovery drink, as the combination of carbs, naturally occurring electrolytes and high protein content successfully rehydrated the body while stimulating enhanced muscle growth.
Consuming dark chocolate leads to the production of endorphins, feel-good brain chemicals that naturally boost your spirits. Chocolate also helps to increase the production of serotonin in the brain, which helps to relax your mind and body while also operating as an anti-depressant.
England researchers studying chronic fatigue syndrome reported lessened fatigue and improved mood in participants who ate one and a half ounces of dark chocolate a day for eight weeks. Swiss scientists found that consuming chocolate for two weeks significantly lowered stress hormones in people who rated themselves as highly tense.
So…what’s to stop you now from kneeling open-mouthed before the nearest vending machine and pounding back all things Nestlé?
All these studies yielded such incredible results only when using very dark chocolate as a key ingredient, with a cocoa solid percentage of 70 percent and higher, and which contained very little or no sugar, no other additives, and had a bittersweet aftertaste.
Eat chocolate and become a dark silky temptress (instead of a great big Easter egg) by skipping milk chocolate candies and brand name chocolate bars. Instead, choose bars of dark chocolate labelled with 70 percent cocoa solids or higher, with little to no sugar or added ingredients.
Moreover, you can optimize the health benefits of cooking and baking with chocolate at home by using unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch processed) instead of sweetened or semi-sweet chocolate. Get started with these chocolaty ecstasy-on-a-plate recipes here.