Do you love chocolate? If so, you may be excited by recent news about your favorite treat. Several studies have suggested that chocolate is good for recovery from exercise, heart health, even losing weight. Before you grab the nearest Hershey bar, though, it’s important to learn more about the specifics.
Does chocolate improve heart health?The cocoa beans that make up your chocolate bar contain potent antioxidants that can reduce the cellular damage that contributes to poor heart health. Our bodies are constantly enduring damage caused by things like cigarette smoke, pollution, pesticides in food and other toxins, which antioxidants work to neutralize. Not only that, but the antioxidants found in chocolate—called flavanols—have been shown to improve blood pressure, blood flow, and overall heart health. Researchers believe that flavanols work by stimulating production of nitric oxide, which improves blood flow and relaxes blood vessels.
How to estimate the antioxidant power of your chocolateThe amount of flavanols in cocoa powder and chocolate varies. Although manufacturers don’t list the flavanol content on the nutrition facts label, the packaging does give you information that can help you determine the flavanol levels:
- Milk chocolate consists mainly of sugar, milk, and other ingredients, and can contain as little as 10% cocoa by weight.
- On the other hand, dark chocolate typically contains 50-60% cocoa by weight.
- Essentially, the higher cocoa percent in chocolate bar, the more flavanols—and antioxidant power—it has.
While dark chocolate generally contains more antioxidant-power than the other commercial varieties, processing can also affect the amount of flavanols in chocolate. Dutch processing treats the cocoa with alkali to neutralize its natural acidity, so it may also reduce the amount of flavanols in a chocolate bar. So, if you’re looking for chocolate with more antioxidants, check into how the manufacturer processes it. The InsideTracker Performance Plan tests your levels of inflammation and provides suggestions for incorporating antioxidants, such as dark chocolate, in your diet!
Chocolate milk can boost athletic performanceFor athletes who are in the market for a recovery drink, chocolate milk might not be the first to come to mind. However, the beverage that had previously been relegated to children is now being touted by studies that suggest it can help athletes recover after training sessions. And why chocolate milk and not just regular milk? Simply, chocolate milk contains more carbohydrates than regular milk.
Carbohydrates help to re-fuel your body with the energy that it needs for your next workout—they're one of your body’s best fuel sources because your body requires minimal oxygen to process them. In fact, your body uses them more efficiently than either fats or proteins. Chocolate milk also provides protein, which your body needs to repair muscle damage. An adequate supply of protein will help your muscles recover from workout stress, especially if you engage in weight-bearing exercise, such as weight-training or jogging. In addition to these important macronutrients, chocolate milk also contains sodium and potassium, two electrolytes that are essential for muscle recovery.
Eating chocolate can help you lose weight—sometimes!What about the claims that eating chocolate helps you lose weight? A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine suggested that the flavanols can have a weight-lowering effect. However, this study did not ask what type of chocolate was eaten, even though dark chocolate contains more flavanols than milk or white chocolate.
In addition, many commercial brands of chocolate contain large amounts of fat, sugar, and calories. If you’re going to eat chocolate, opt for dark chocolate that contains 65% or higher cocoa content, and enjoy it in moderation! Unfortunately for chocoholics, even 3 ounces can provide up to 450 calories, so be sure to incorporate it in the context of a healthy lifestyle.
Increasing interest in the health benefits of chocolate has led to the founding of the International Society of Chocolate and Cocoa in Medicine. Expect to hear more about how chocolate can affect your fitness and well-being in the years to come!