Men often bring chocolate to a woman for very good — if sometimes subconscious — reasons. The classic stereotype of a woman reaching for a chocolate bar in moments of emotional stress has a basis in fact. And you need not feel guilty when you reach for the Godiva or the Hershey bar. Yes, ladies, chocolate is actually good for your health. Chocolate can help make you smarter, thinner, less stressed and less likely to develop diabetes, or to have a heart attack or stroke.
In addition to being the go-to for lovelorn swains, chocolate actually has benefits for your heart and the rest of your cardiovascular system. One or two servings of dark chocolate a week cut the risk of heart failure by a third for 31,000 Swedish women. Another study from Germany found a square of dark chocolate each day cut the risk of stroke and heart attack by 39 percent. A study from the Journal of Nutrition reported dark chocolate could help decrease cholesterol levels, another benefit in promoting heart health. Several studies have shown dark chocolate can help lower blood pressure.
If you’re digging for a Callebaut product after that fight with your boyfriend, you have good reason. Chocolate has an effect on your brain. First, it can lower your stress levels. Swiss researchers found that an ounce and a half of dark chocolate daily for two weeks lowered stress hormone levels. Women who ate chocolate daily during pregnancy reported being less stressed than pregnant women who passed on the goodies. A Finnish study also found that women who ate chocolate while pregnant produced babies who were happier and smiled more.
The idea that chocolate can help you get slender might be a little hard to swallow. However, researchers from the University of Copenhagen found that dark chocolate makes you feel fuller and lessens cravings for sweet, salty and fatty foods — the bane of many diets. Chocolate may also help protect you from type 2 diabetes, which typically goes hand-in-hand with obesity. In one small Italian study, a half a candy bar of dark chocolate each day for 15 days decreased insulin sensitivity, which is a precursor to diabetes.
If you’re already eating chocolate for your health, that’s a smart idea. If you need a little brain booster, it’s an even better idea. Theobromine and caffeine are stimulants and can give you a quick pop of energy. But research also shows chocolate can improve blood flow to the brain and improve cognitive ability in older adults.
Chocolate is a complex mix of flavonoids, antioxidants and chemicals such as theobromine and caffeine. Dark chocolate contains more of all of these than milk chocolate (white chocolate is really chocolate at all, although it does contain coca butter). Then there’s the fiber, iron, copper, magnesium, manganese, potassium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium. Look for chocolate that is at least 70 percent cocoa; higher percentages are even better. Try to limit the heavily sugared brands, though — highly-sweetened dark chocolate can contribute to tooth decay and adds calories. So go ahead, pop that sweet, dark goody for your health.