Chocolate doesn't just taste great, it can also be good for your health. From improving brain functioning to reducing the risk of stroke, we reveal 7 health benefits of chocolate...
See also: 6 surprising health benefits of drinking coffee
1. Makes you smarter
Eating chocolate at least once a week could improve your memory and ability to think abstractly, according to a new study published in the journal Appetite. After analysing the cognitive performance of nearly 1,000 volunteers, researchers found that those who ate chocolate demonstrated superior brain functioning.
This isn't the first time cocoa has been linked to enhanced brain functioning. In 2014, a study suggested that a diet rich in cocoa could help ward off dementia-like memory loss in the elderly. And in 2009, a separate study found that volunteers who drank large amounts of flavanols in a hot cocoa drink were better at mental arithmetic. Flavanols, part of a group of chemicals called polyphenols, are believed to incease blood flow to the brain.
2. Good for your heart and circulation
A 2012 review of the best-available evidence on the effects of chocolate on blood pressure concluded that cocoa products – including dark chocolate – may help slightly lower blood pressure.
It's thought flavanoids help improve the flexibility of arteries while also preventing white blood cells from sticking to the walls of blood vessels, thereby helping to prevent arteries from clogging.
3. Reduces risk of stroke
A Finnish study found that men who regularly consumed chocolate were 17% less likely to have a stroke, while a separate study from Cambridge University found that people who consumed the most chocolate (63g a week) had a 29% lower risk of stroke.
More recently, researchers in Norfolk found that people who ate the equivalent of two chocolate bars a day had a slightly lower risk of stroke than people who never or rarely eat chocolate.
4. Good for your skin
The flavonols in dark chocolate may also protect the skin from sun damage. Researchers in Germany looked at the skin of women who consumed a high flavanol cocoa drink and found that their skin was better protected by UV rays. Not only that, but their skin was better hydrated and thicker. You still need to wear sunscreen, though.
5. Combats stress
A small study from 2009 found that people who consumed 40g of dark chocolate a day for 14 days experienced a reduction in stress hormones. Another study carried out by researchers at Hull York Medical School, found that chronic fatigue patients who ate 45g of 85% cocoa chocolate daily reported less fatigue, anxiety and depression than those given placebo chocolate with low antioxidants.
6. May prevent bowel cancer
A Spanish study found that rats fed a diet containing 12% cocoa were protected against the development of colon cancer. Researchers believe there could be similar protective qualities in humans thanks to the "strong antioxidant effects" of cocoa.
7. Makes you feel better
There's a reason why eating chocolate makes you feel good. Chocolate contains phenylethylamine (the same chemical your brain produces when you fall in love), which encourages your brain to release feel-good endorphins. No wonder we love it so much!
Everything in moderation...
Cocoa might be good for your health but the sugar and fat in chocolate can lead to weight gain if you eat too much - thereby counteracting any health benefits. Experts recommend eating 70%-plus cocoa chocolate.
Three products for chocolate-lovers:
Dark Chocolate Coffee Beans (90g), £6.50
Chocolate Tree, 72% Madagascar hot chocolate, £6.95
Green & Blacks Organic Tasting Collection Boxed Chocolates 395G, £8.50