4. Chocolate Is Good for Your Gut and May Help With Weight Loss
Eating chocolate every day probably seems like the last way to lose weight, but research suggests dark chocolate may play a role in controlling appetite, which in turn could help with weight loss. Neuroscientist Will Clower, PhD, wrote a book on the subject called Eat Chocolate, Lose Weight, which describes how eating a bit of dark chocolate before or after meals triggers hormones that signal to the brain you’re full. Of course, eating more than the recommended amount per day can counteract any potential weight loss, and eating dark chocolate will not counteract the effects of an overall unhealthy diet.
Research has found that during digestion, chocolate behaves like a prebiotic (not to be confused with probiotic), a type of fiber that encourages the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. The more “good” microbes are in your system, the better your body is able to absorb nutrients, as well as support a healthy metabolism, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Another study found that even milk chocolate could aid in weight loss by boosting metabolism and curbing appetite. However, the participant group was small (just 19 women), which means further research is needed to corroborate those claims. And it’s important to note that chocolate, especially milk chocolate, is high in calories so should be consumed in moderation — eating more won’t benefit you more.
5. It Fights Free Radicals and May Play a Role in Cancer Prevention
Evidence that dark chocolate possesses properties that could help protect against certain types of cancer is limited but growing. Antioxidants protect our cells from damage caused by free radicals, which are unstable oxygen molecules thought to be responsible for aging and disease, per research.
“When you have too many free radicals in your body, they start to attack your cells, and that can lead, over time, to low-grade inflammation and to some diseases — cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s,” Dr. DuBost says.
According to the American Cancer Society, eating a diet rich in flavonoids, which chocolate is full of, can help prevent cell damage that is often the precursor to many cancers. Research has found that of the many flavonoids in chocolate, one known as epicatechin is believed to be responsible for its cancer-fighting properties. Chocolate also tends to be a good source of magnesium, per USDA data, and one study found that the body’s immune cells can target abnormal or infected cells only in a magnesium-rich environment.
Still, most research is limited by using only animals or cell cultures, and the amount of chocolate needed to potentially yield preventative action against cancers is much higher than the daily recommended dose for humans.
RELATED: How to Build an Anti-Cancer Diet
6. It’s Good for Your Skin (in More Ways Than One)
The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health lists vitamins and minerals that dark chocolate is packed full of — like copper, iron, magnesium, and manganese, to name a few — and that are also beneficial to your skin. Manganese, for example, supports the production of collagen, a protein that helps keep skin looking young and healthy. Research has also found the high levels of antioxidants in dark chocolate may protect skin from the powerful ultraviolet (UV) rays emitted by the sun.
Other research failed to show any significant protective effects of antioxidant-rich chocolate against UV rays but did show improvements in the elasticity of skin exposed to the sun, although the exact mechanism of this isn’t known.
7. Dark Chocolate May Send Good Cholesterol Up, Bad Cholesterol Down
Dark chocolate is also touted as a cholesterol-lowering food, which explains why, in one study, a handful of almonds, dark chocolate, and unsweetened cocoa resulted in a significant drop in overweight and obese participants’ low-density lipoproteins (LDL), also known as “bad” cholesterol.
DuBost says the cocoa butter in dark chocolate may also play a part in raising high-density lipoproteins (HDL), or “good” cholesterol. Cocoa butter contains oleic acid, which is a monounsaturated fat — the same fat you find in heart-healthy olive oil, notes MedlinePlus. But per the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), cocoa butter, unlike olive oil, is also high in saturated fat, which in excess can be harmful to the heart, further emphasizing the need for portion control.
Not to mention, many of the studies on chocolate and good cholesterol are short-term, so it’s premature to say that chocolate is a cholesterol cure-all, DuBost adds.
RELATED: The Best and Worst Foods for People With High Cholesterol
8. Dark Chocolate Is Nutritious — and Delicious!
On top of all the other potential benefits, one thing is for sure: Dark chocolate contains a ton of nutrients. Of course, the darker the chocolate the better, but any 70-percent dark chocolate or higher contains antioxidants, fiber, potassium, calcium, copper, and magnesium, according to a research article.
It also contains a good chunk of calories and fat, so be mindful of your daily intake. Each brand of chocolate is also processed differently. Amidor says going organic is always best because it’s grown without the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides (look for Rainforest Alliance Certified products). She also recommends always checking the ingredients list to make sure you’re consuming chocolate with fewer and more natural ingredients.