Before you reach for that Snickers, remember this: While chocolate can do the body good, the study certainly doesn’t go as far as proving a causal link between eating more chocolate and losing weight. Keep in mind that all chocolate was not created equal: Dark chocolate packs more of a health punch overall, but even the bittersweet varieties can be high in calories, fat and sugar.
However, treating yourself to a small amount of chocolate regularly is definitely a health message we can get behind. Take a look at some of the surprising health benefits below, then tell us in the comments why chocolate is a part of your healthy diet.
- It Reduces Stroke Risk
A 2011 Swedish study found that women who ate more than 45 grams of chocolate a week had a 20 percent lower risk of stroke than women who treated themselves to fewer than 9 grams of the sweet stuff.
- It Boosts Heart Health
Regular chocolate eaters welcome a host of benefits for their hearts, including lower blood pressure, lower “bad” LDL cholesterol and a lower risk of heart disease. One of the reasons dark chocolate is especially heart-healthy is its inflammation-fighting properties, which reduce cardiovascular risk.
- It Fills You Up
Because it’s rich in fiber, dark chocolate can actually help keep you full, so you’ll eat less. Regular chocolate eaters might do themselves a favor by treating themselves to a bite instead of snacking on “11 other things first”. Dark chocolate does the trick much better than milk, according to a small study from the University of Copenhagen, and may even reduce cravings for sweet, salty and fatty foods.
- It May Fight Diabetes
A small Italian study from 2005 found that regularly eating chocolate increases insulin sensitivity, thereby reducing risk for diabetes.
- It Protects Your Skin
Forget what you’ve heard about chocolate causing breakouts: Dark chocolate is actually good for your skin. The type of antioxidants called flavonoids found in dark chocolate offer some protection from UV damage from the sun. And no, that does not mean you can skip the sunscreen!
- It Can Quiet Coughs
Can’t stop coughing? An ingredient in chocolate called theobromine seems to reduce activity of the vagus nerve, the part of the brain that triggers hard-to-shake coughs. In late 2010, the BBC reported that scientists were investigating creating a drug containing theobromine to preplace cough syrups containing codeine, which can have risky side effects.
- It Boosts Your Mood
There’s no denying that indulging your sweet tooth every once in a while feels great. Enjoying food is part of enjoying life. Chocolate eaters also report feeling less stressed.
- It Improves Blood Flow
Cocoa has anti-clotting, blood-thinning properties that work in a similar way to aspirin, which can improve blood flow and circulation.
- It Improves Vision
Because of chocolate’s ability to improve blood flow, in particular to the brain, researchers at the University of Reading hypothesized in a small 2011 study that chocolate may also increase blood flow to the retina, thereby giving vision a boost.
- It May Make You Smarter
That boost of blood flow to the brain created by cocoa’s flavanols seems to make people feel more awake and alert, and, in a small British study, perform better on counting tasks.