Ask a room full of health-focused people if they like chocolate and a large majority will raise their hands, most with a look of shame plastered squarely on their faces. However, one piece of research recently published in Frontiers in Nutrition now suggests that we no longer have to feel guilty about our regular longings for the sweet stuff.
In fact, this mini review actually suggests that we should eat chocolate regularly to promote our brain function (yay!), especially if we don’t always get enough sleep. What has changed, taking this heavenly substance from something we should avoid completely into a food that we should eat regularly to enjoy a positive health response?
Cocoa and Your Brain
According to a group of researchers from University of Rome and University of L’Aquila in Italy, cocoa has repeatedly been connected to a boost in brain function. The areas impacted most are those related to memory, attention, and the ability to process at a faster rate.
Cocoa has even been found to help your brain age more gracefully. It does this by lowering your risk of dementia and cognitive decline over a 10-year timeframe. But what makes cocoa so beneficial for this one organ that is responsible for controlling all of our body’s functions?
Apparently, it is its flavonoids (catechin and epicatechin) that are so good for the brain. Without getting too in-depth, they increase nitric oxide bioavailability, which ultimately improves vascular tone and cerebrovascular function. A few of cocoa’s other ingredients, such as methylxanthine caffeine and theobromine, contribute to this effect as well.
Researchers further explain that these brain-based responses are even greater for people who don’t get the recommended amount of sleep nightly. In this case, the cocoa flavanols actually act in a protective manner, helping your brain and body function more effectively despite your lack of zz’s.
Cocoa and Skin Benefits
Cocoa also does good things for your skin, which is why many skin care products contain this ingredient. Healthline reports that its benefits include more hydrated skin, improved elasticity (which is important when aging), and greater protection against the sun’s damaging UV rays.
Products containing cocoa are also believed to help reduce the appearance of bothersome wrinkles and scars. Though more research needs to be conducted in this area, many believe that this substance aids in minimizing stretch marks and can help your body better heal skin conditions that are rash-like in nature, like those related to eczema and dermatitis.
This means that chocolate can be part of a healthy skin care regimen, in addition to providing you many brain-based benefits. But how do you incorporate it into your diet without risking your waistline?
Incorporating Chocolate In Your Diet Healthfully
Because it is the cocoa in chocolate that is the most beneficial, ideally, you want to consume chocolates that have a high cocoa concentration. This means choosing dark chocolates over milk chocolate options.
The Mayo Clinic also suggests that cocoa can become part of a healthy diet by adding plain cocoa to some of the nutritious foods you already eat. For instance, if you always have a full glass of milk with dinner (which is high in vitamin D), mix some plain cocoa in to give yourself a refreshing, yet healthy glass of chocolate milk.
And if you want to start your day with a sweet breakfast that satisfies your taste buds as much as it does your tummy, put some cocoa in your morning bowl of oatmeal. This will give you the flavor of chocolate without increasing your fat or sugar intake, the two main culprits behind weight gain…and problem skin.
When eaten in its purest form, cocoa can be part of a healthy diet. In fact, if the researchers are correct, it IS part of a healthy diet, so now you can eat your chocolate with a smile.