THE chocolate obsessed can rest assured their guilty pleasure is actually good for them.
Research shows the sweet stuff has tonnes of benefits – with a study last week revealing it can boost weight loss.
Often chocolate is branded as a “bad” food under the same category as biscuits, cakes and crisps.
But the cocoa bean is a natural product that has been proven in research to help fight obesity, heart disease and cognitive decline.
And unsurprisingly, it can improve mood by calming you down and keeping you content by boosting endorphins.
Cocoa has hundreds of chemicals, some of which are beneficial to our health including flavonoids.
Usually the type of chocolate sold in shops is far from cocoa’s natural state, as chocolate bars are laden with sugar.
A singular chocolate bar can contain up to 60g of sugar – twice the daily recommended amount – and more than 250 calories.
However, don’t let that put you off.
Experts say we should have a little of the naughty treats in life to fit a balanced diet, as restriction can only make eating habits worse.
Here are all the reasons to stop feeling guilty about indulgence…
A mood booster
We all know eating chocolate makes us feel good – but why?
Scientists say it is most likely because it drives up endorphins.
Experts wrote in wrote in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology: “Chocolate may interact with some neurotransmitter systems such as dopamine, serotonin and endorphins (contained in cocoa and chocolate) that contribute to appetite, reward and mood regulation.”
Serotonin and dopamine often go by the nicknames of the “happy hormone”.
Although it is unclear if it is enough to make you happy straight after eating it, a study has shown chocolate consumers are less depressed.
A British study of 14,000 adults led scientists to claim chocs could be an alternative to antidepressants as the biggest consumers were 57 per cent less likely to suffer from the blues.
The pleasure of eating chocolate is also likely to play a role, as people often turn to it in times of feeling down, stressed or unhappy.
It’s good for your heart
Raw cacao is packed with flavanols – plant compounds believed to improve circulation to the heart, lower blood pressure and inflammation and even improve cholesterol levels.
Nutritionist Cassandra Barns told the Sun: “Cacao is also rich in potassium, which helps to regulate blood pressure, and magnesium, which is vital for muscle function – our heart is our most important muscle.”
However, she said flavanol levels can be greatly reduced when cacao is roasted to make conventional chocolate.
One study found moderate consumption of chocolate — up to three bars monthly — can cut a person’s risk of heart failure by 13 per cent, compared with eating none at all.
Researchers say natural compounds in cocoa called flavonoids boost blood vessel health and help reduce inflammation.
But they warn against having too much chocolate, with those indulging daily seeing their risk of heart failure increase by 17 per cent.
Increases brain power
Chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine, both natural stimulants.
But you have to be careful not to overdo it, because most favourite chocolate bars are high in sugar.
Sugar gives an immediate energy boost as it goes straight to the bloodstream, but this is reversed not soon after with a sugar crash.
The less sugar the chocolate bar has, such as dark chocolate, the less likely you are to get a sugar slump.
The flavanols in chocolate are great for the brain, too.
A study published in Scientific Reports in November last year found healthy adults who had consumed flavanol-rich cocoa performed better on problem solving challenges than those who had not had the cocoa.
They were 11 per cent faster than usual, on average.
Prof Gabriele Gratton, of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said the body reacts to the cocoa by increasing blood flow to the brain, measured with various tests in the study.
Reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
Some experts say there is a link between chocolate and the prevention of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Flavanols can protect from oxidative stress and other cell damage, preserving a person’s cognitive abilities as they age.
Researchers wrote in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology that more studies need to be done on chocolate because the type of flavanols studied are nearly always those in fruits, vegetables and tea.
Similarly, caffeine has a “neuroprotective effect” on a range of diseases involved in cognitive decline.
Therefore chocolate “may contribute” to the positive effects seen in major caffeine sources like coffee and tea.
Chocolate also contains anti-inflammatory plant chemicals that may defend against the inflammation that leads to brain diseases.
Cuts blood pressure
Around a third of UK adults have high blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart attack and strokes.
Compounds in cocoa may help to reduce blood pressure, according to a review in The Cochrane Library in 2012.
Flavanols are thought to be responsible for the formation of nitric oxide in the body.
Nitric oxide causes blood vessel walls to relax and open wider, thereby reducing blood pressure.
People who consumed chocolate or cocoa powder rich in flavanols had lower blood pressure by 3-4 mm Hg when compared to those who consumed no products at all, according to the Cochrane review.
Ideal blood pressure is usually considered to be between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg.
Helps you lose weight
It seems almost unbelievable that chocolate may actually help you achieve your weight loss goals.
But in a study published last week, eating it for breakfast or before bed could help you slim down by keeping your motivation up.
The study of 19 postmenopausl women showed that women who ate 100g per day were less hungry, had less desire for other sweet treats, and were less stressed.
On a more chemical level, the flavonoids in dark chocolate can help reduce insulin resistance.
This can prevent spikes in blood sugar levels, which are a precursor for hunger and overeating.
Another study in 2014 showed one particular type of antioxidant in cocoa prevented lab mice from gaining weight when fed a high-fat diet.
The compound, known as oligomeric procyanidins (PCs), made the biggest difference in keeping the mice slim when compared to mice not given it, according to the findings in the Journal of Agricultural & Food Chemistry.
Protects your skin and bones
German researchers found that cocoa products are a source of vitamin D, which is crucial for the health of skin, bones, and immunity.
According to the team’s findings in 2018, cocoa butter and dark chocolate have the highest amount of vitamin D2.
Vitamin D2 is consumed through food, such as fatty fish or chicken, while vitamin D3 is obtained through exposure to the sun.
Both are vital for health but most people do not get enough.
Although scientists of the 2018 study said “you would have to eat enormous amounts of chocolate to cover your vitamin D2 requirements”, small amounts could still contribute.