We all know that it’s common for people to give boxes of chocolates to their sweethearts on Valentine’s Day. And while chocolate is thought of as a decadent “treat,” (and chocolate certainly is a treat), did you know that along with the delicious taste comes some surprising health benefits?
1) Good for the Heart
The classic presentation box for Valentine’s Day chocolates is a heart-shaped box. While this symbolic presentation identifies the chocolates as a gift from the heart, more and more research confirms that this symbol has even more meaning. It turns out that chocolate is actually very good for the heart and the entire cardiovascular system.
The cocoa bean is rich in a class of plant nutrients called flavonoids which appear to be at the heart of its protective power. Flavonoids help protect plants from environmental toxins and help repair damage. They can be found in a variety of foods, such as colorful, fresh fruits and vegetables. When we eat foods rich in flavonoids, our bodies benefit from this antioxidant power, much as plants do.
2) Antioxidant Properties
The flavonoid antioxidants found in chocolate (dark chocolate in particular) are believed to help the body’s cells resist damage caused by free radicals that are formed by normal bodily processes, such as breathing; from environmental contaminants, like cigarette smoke, and from the impacts of everyday Cultural Stress. If your body does not have enough antioxidants to combat the amount of oxidation that occurs, it can become damaged by free radicals. For example, an increase in oxidation can cause low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as “bad” cholesterol, to form plaques on the artery walls.
Flavonols are the main type of flavonoid found in cocoa and chocolate. The darker the chocolate is, the higher levels of flavonols it has.
3) Blood Health
In addition to having antioxidant qualities, research shows that the flavonols found in chocolate have other potential influences on vascular health, such as lowering blood pressure, improving blood flow to the brain and heart, and making blood platelets less sticky and less prone to forming dangerous clots.
4) Reducing Stress and Boosting Happiness
One of my favorite sayings, which I often share with people, is “before there was medicine there was food.” This reflects the simple reality that prior to modern medical treatments people had to rely on the nutritional and healing properties of natural and whole foods to remain healthy. I like to underscore this another saying, “before there was food…there was chocolate.” This drives home my concept of the 80/20 rule—indulge in your favorite treats (in moderation) to preserve the joy in eating and life in general. Treating yourself to something you love is a key aspect of living an Inclusive Health lifestyle and can go a long way toward reducing stress.
So enjoy moderate portions of chocolate a few times per week, and don’t forget to eat other flavonoid-rich foods like apples, onions and cranberries.
Article by Howard Murad, M.D., FAAD, a world renowned skincare expert and founder of the Inclusive Health movement. Learn more about Dr. Murad.