Whether it is a favourite sweet treat, a guilty pleasure or your go-to breakup food, chocolate holds a special place in our culinary hearts.  Of course, this ‘food of the gods’ is good for more than just a broken heart – it will actually help boost your heart health! Of course, the average candy bar isn’t such a great choice, since it’s loaded with sugar and food additives. It is cocoa that is responsible for the characteristic taste of our favourite chocolates…and where the majority of the health benefits lie:

Cocoa can help lower blood pressure: flavonoids – which are antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds found in cocoa – have been shown to lower blood pressure by exerting a protective effect on the walls of blood vessels.

Chocolate is part of a healthy diet that prevents diabetes: studies have shown that eating a small amount of dark chocolate daily can actually increases the body’s sensitivity to insulin.  This is again due to the effect of the flavonoids in the cocoa that increase nitric oxide concentrations in the body, playing a role in insulin sensitivity.

Chocolate can help curb cravings:  dark chocolate can be a good way to manage that pesky sweet tooth!  Researchers at the University of Copenhagen have shown that dark chocolate is more filling and as a result may lessen cravings for other sweet and fatty foods.

Chocolate can help you beat stress: a recent Swiss study demonstrated that intake of dark chocolate could help to buffer the body’s metabolic reactions to stress. Oh those Swiss…gotta keep the national chocolate industry going!

Now, before you go running to your local convenience store to stock up on as many chocolate bars as you can carry, there are a few things you need to keep in mind!  First, a whole bar a day is not part of a healthy diet…just a 1-2 squares of dark chocolate keeps things moderate.

Due to the fact that cocoa on it’s own can taste chalky, bitter, and frankly, not that appealing, most chocolate bars have added milk, butter, and sugar that makes them sweeter and richer.  These ingredients can diminish the health benefits of cocoa.

When selecting chocolate that’s going to satisfy your sweet tooth and your conscience, look for dark chocolate and make sure to grab a bar that has at least 70% cocoa in it. Bonus marks for 80% or 85%! Be cautious of marketing, as chocolates labeled “dark” may not have very high concentrations of cocoa.  The first ingredient on the label should be cocoa, chocolate, or cocoa liquor.  If possible, choose an organic dark chocolate to ensure that the cocoa used in the chocolate bar is pesticide free and easy on the environment.  As an added bonus, most organic chocolate bars also use cocoa beans from fair trade plantations, ensuring cocoa farmers can make an honest living.  So go ahead and (modestly) indulge!

 Thank you to Britney Lentz for helping put this post together!