We talk a lot about superfoods on this site, and while they’re all undoubtedly delicious in their own right (and depending on how you prepare them), today we’re talking about a delicacy that’s nearly universally beloved: chocolate.
That’s right. Chocolate is a superfood. And we’ll get into the nitty gritty of “why” in just a second, but first, a quick caveat.
In order to reap the plethora of health benefits that chocolate can bestow upon us, we’ve gotta be a bit choosy. Not all chocolate is created equal. (But you already knew that, didn’t you?)
As you’ve undoubtedly heard over the years, dark chocolate is where it’s at. And while I think it’s completely swoon worthy, I can appreciate the fact that it’s an acquired taste if you equate “chocolate” with Hershey’s Kisses or Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups. Dark chocolate is deeper, richer, and has a more bitter quality to it.
But for chocolate — which starts out dark and bitter — to get to that sweeter form you’re used to, it has to go through some serious changes. It’s processed and roasted within an inch of its life, stripping away the very vital nutrients we’re going to be talking about today. In which case, no, it’s not a superfood. It’s just candy.
Products labeled as raw, organic cacao are going to get you the most bang for your superfood buck. But in general, 70% or higher dark chocolate is what you should aim for.
If dark chocolate isn’t quite your jam just yet, look for bars or squares that include things like almonds, hazelnuts, or sea salt in them. These will slightly mellow out that bitterness, and will act as your gateway drug to the wild and wonderful world of dark chocolate.
Now what about those health benefits?
1. It’s Full of Antioxidants
Dark chocolate contains higher concentrations of antioxidants than apples, black tea, or red wine. And raw cacao contains even higher levels – more than 40 times that of blueberries. You read that right.
And as you hopefully know by now, antioxidants absorb free radicals, which can lead to cell damage as well as diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and some types of cancer.
2. It’s the Highest Plant Source of Iron
If you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, you know that finding enough iron from food sources can be a challenge. But good news! Cacao is the highest plant source of iron, with 7.3mg per 100g.
To put that in perspective, both beef and lamb have 2.5mg per 100g, and spinach has 3.6mg. But note that the iron in cacao is non-heme, which means you should consume it along with some vitamin C in order to absorb it properly.
3. It Can Help to Reduce Stress
A clinical study in 2009 found that participants who consumed 40 grams of chocolate – or about five squares – per day for two weeks experienced lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their blood.
That’s because chocolate contains several compounds that increase levels of anandamide, a lipid that activates brain receptors responsible for calming you down.
4. It Can Improve Sleep
Yes, you read that right. A little dark chocolate before bed is A-OK! Just make sure it’s a little.
Dark chocolate does contain caffeine, after all. It packs a serious magnesium punch, with just one ounce covering about 15% of your recommended daily allowance. But not that you needed a reason for a midnight snack, right?
5. It Can Help Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease
In another clinical study, researchers found that people who ate a 1 oz. serving up to six times a week had up to a 20% lower risk of experiencing an irregular heartbeat – something that’s associated with an increased risk of stroke or heart attack.
This is due to chocolate’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, and their effects on the blood.
6. It Can Boost Your Sex Life
Chocolate contains phenylethylamine, a chemical that the body releases in response to physical attraction. That chemical also increases our levels of dopamine, which plays a role in how we experience pleasure.
Ever hear someone describe a chocolate desert as “better than sex”? Well, we’re not going to go that far, but it could certainly help you get in the mood.
So, is that enough evidence for you? While no one is recommending you eat a chocolate cake in one sitting – and again, the candy bars in the checkout line aren’t going to do you any favors – there’s no reason to deny yourself one of life’s greatest pleasures: good chocolate.