More reasons to love chocolate

Brooke Binkowski

Fri January 30, 2015 11:46am

It seems like the winter holidays have barely passed, and yet everyone is already frantically planning for Valentine’s Day.
If you’re feeling so stressed you can’t take it any more, don’t just buy chocolates for your loved one — reach for a piece yourself. Chocolate, as it turns out, is not only one of the most delectable things to eat, but it also carries with it a number of health benefits. There’s a reason cocoa’s scientific name is Theobroma cacao — Theobroma means, quite literally, “food of the gods.”
Chocolate, being delicious, may often be relegated to the purgatory of “guilty foods,” but there are a couple of problems with that. First is the obvious issue of conflating food with morality, but that is a discussion for another time. Second is the idea that if any food is deserving of guilt, it’s dark, sweet, silky chocolate, which melts so sensuously on your tongue that it just has to be bad.
The truth is far more complicated, but also more interesting. For one thing, dedicated chocolate lovers seem to weigh less than abstainers — despite eating more calories.
“I had actually surmised that frequent chocolate consumption would be associated with no increase in weight,” said Dr. Beverly Golomb, a medical doctor from the University of California, San Diego (and a chocolate aficionado) who was lead author on a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2012. “I wasn’t actually optimistic enough to anticipate that it might be associated with lower body weight — which was exactly what we found.”
Researchers surveyed more than a thousand San Diegans, finding that people who eat a lot of chocolate have a significantly lower body-mass index than those who do not. Golomb said that may be due to cacao’s natural array of antioxidants, particularly an especially potent subgroup called epicatechins.
“Around the same time we did that study, somebody at my university was doing studies on rats using epicatechins from chocolate, and he found that epicatechins increased muscle vascularity ... and also the rats that were given this in moderate doses regularly could run longer, as though they had been endurance trained,” Golomb said.
The key, she says, is frequency. It doesn’t matter if you eat only a little chocolate a day, just as long as you consume it often.
But that’s not all. Chocolate, it’s been found, also has mental benefits. A 2008 study published in the Journal of Nutritional Neuroscience concluded that specific compounds found in cocoa can combat depression. It can also improve brainpower with a boost of flavonols and a touch of caffeine.
Last but not least, regular consumption of dark chocolate can help you live longer by, it’s thought, increasing your consumption of antioxidants, the nutrients in foods that can help reverse or slow damage to your cells. That’s great news for chocolate aficionados, because honestly, you might be able to live without chocolate, but who would really want to?
This Valentine’s Day, don’t worry about eating sweet treats to your heart’s content, as long as they’re chocolate. You’ll be doing your body and your brain a solid.
Now that’s love.