How your chocolate habit may be boosting your health

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The next time you raid the kitchen cupboards for a few squares of chocolate, there’ll be no need to feel quite so guilty about it. A new large-scale study suggests eating chocolate could be good for your heart, linking consumption of the sweet stuff with a reduced risk of heart disease.

The research published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, which analysed more than 330,000 participants, found that eating chocolate more than once a week reduced the risk of developing coronary heart disease by 8 per cent when compared to those who indulged less often.

And there’s even better news – eating chocolate (in moderation, of course) has a number of other surprising health benefits. Here are a few reasons to eat chocolate.

1. It’s loaded with antioxidants
Dark chocolate can be a brilliant source of flavanols and polyphenols, disease-fighting antioxidants that can help prevent oxidative stress caused by free radicals. Oxidative stress can inflict damage on cells and tissues in the body, which can cause ageing and contribute to health problems like heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Dark varieties of chocolate also contain less sugar than commercial milk chocolate too, so it’s healthier to opt for a bar with a higher cocoa content.

2. It can help lower your blood pressure
Studies have found that flavanol-rich dark chocolate and cocoa powder can lower blood pressure. A 2017 review states that flavanols found in cocoa beans are thought to boost the production of nitric oxide, which stimulates blood vessels to dilate, helping to lower blood pressure overall.

Having high blood pressure significantly increases the risk of major health issues like coronary heart and circulatory disease, stroke and kidney disease. Remember that eating too much sugar can lead to weight gain over time, which puts you at risk of high blood pressure – so again, opt for dark varieties, in moderation.

3. It could be good for your cough
Having a tickly cough is never fun, but instead of rushing to the medicine cabinet, a square of chocolate could actually be better at suppressing a cough than traditional cough medicines.

Studies have found that a component in unsweetened, natural cocoa – called theobromine – can reduce the activity in the part of the brain that triggers coughing fits, known as the vagus nerve. Scientists from Imperial College London found theobromine was capable of being better at suppressing a cough than codeine.

4. It may be able to reduce stress
There may be a reason why you fancy treating yourself to a chocolate bar after a stressful day at work. Chocolate can be a source of tryptophan, an amino acid precursor to the mood-boosting endorphin serotonin, which helps reduce stress in the body. One 2016 study on men found that eating 50g of dark chocolate can have an anti-inflammatory effect, and protect from the physical effects of stress.

5. It can boost your brainpower
Several studies have found that eating chocolate can also improve brain function and blood flow in the body. This is down to the polyphenols naturally found in cocoa, which promote the production of nitric acid, helping to increase blood flow to the brain. In fact, a study on older adults found that eating high-flavanol cocoa increased blood flow to the brain by 8 per cent after one week, and 10 per cent after two weeks.

It may sound too good to be true, but a couple of squares of chocolate in the evening may actually benefit your health. That said, it’s important to choose chocolate bars wisely, and go for those that have a high flavanol content. As a general rule of thumb, opt for dark varieties with a 70 per cent cocoa content or higher – the less processed, the better.

How often do you eat chocolate? Do you pay attention to the studies mentioned above or eat it because you enjoy it?

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