Fifty-eight million pounds! That's how much chocolate is purchased during the week of Valentine's Day. We definitely have a love affair with this confection. The question is...does it love us back?
Well, the latest nutritional research has some very good news: Yes, chocolate totally loves us back. Just bear in mind that our true feelings are for the cocoa itself (specifically, its antioxidant catechins and epicatechins) and not for the artificial chocolate flavorings and candies that have little-to-no cocoa. So, if you've ever been concerned that your love affair with chocolate is one-sided—don't worry. Here are the top four reasons chocolate loves you as much as you love it:
1. Chocolate will rev up your metabolism.
The consumption of cocoa encourages blood vessels to branch into cardiac and skeletal muscle tissue, which brings an influx of oxygen and nutrients. This increases the metabolism because it creates more (and more effective) mitochondria in the muscles, producing extra energy for you.
According to this study, cocoa epicatechins alone produce a 30 percent increase in fatigue resistance and a 30 percent increase in new blood supply. Even better, the increase in energy that you get from combining it with exercise amounts to a 50 percent energy boost.
So how long will it take for these changes to occur? It took two weeks for experimental animals to see a 30 percent increase in fatigue resistance. In a separate study, it took four weeks to see an increase of capillaries and mitochondria appear in the muscle tissue. So remember that consistent cocoa consumption is key, and chocolate can be your vehicle for that intake.
2. It's true, chocolate is good for your mental health
I doubt it surprises anyone that chocolate can light up your brain's pleasure centers like a Christmas tree. But in addition to the short-term spritz of mood-boosting dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin, the psychoactive pleasure-palooza you get from cocoa can reduce measures of stress and anxiety. This 2010 study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology showed that daily consumption of cocoa polyphenols for 30 days produced a 10 percent reduction in anxiety and a 10 percent improvement in measures of calmness. Given this, it's not surprising that the subjects also reported less depression.
It's important to note that improvements in emotional state only occur from sustained moderate levels of cocoa. You (unfortunately) can't shortcut this by eating a lot all at once, because cocoa volume is not as important as consistency.
3. Your heart will thank you for your chocolate addiction.
It may be surprising to hear that high-cocoa chocolate is heart healthy because of its saturated fat content. But it turns out that like many evil villains, it's just misunderstood. One-third of the cocoa-derived fats are composed of stearic acid, which doesn't raise your bad cholesterol at all. Moreover, your liver converts it into heart-healthy oleic acid.
The consumption of cocoa fats can, in fact, raise your good cholesterol (HDL) and lower your bad cholesterol (LDL). Even better, the antioxidants in cocoa help fight the chronic vascular inflammation that often leads to atherosclerosis. All this may be why researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital found that people who ate more high-cocoa chocolate have fewer incidents of heart disease. Another meta-analysis of 114,009 participants showed that the highest levels of chocolate consumption were associated with a 37 percent reduction in cardiovascular disease and a 29 percent reduction in strokes.
This Australian study argues that eating 100 grams of dark chocolate per day is a more cost-effective solution than traditional medication and could save people's lives. How popular would doctors be if they prescribed dark chocolate?
4. Chocolate will make your arteries happy.
So cocoa increases blood supply to your heart, increases good cholesterol and lowers bad cholesterol, and it also has an impact on the arteries that carry blood through the body, which determine your blood pressure.
A study of randomized control trials found that ingesting cocoa epicatechins (about 50 grams of 70 percent cocoa chocolate daily) reduces blood pressure by approximately 4.6 points for systolic and 2.1 points for diastolic. Why? It's likely because consistent cocoa consumption increases the flexibility of your blood vessels. It makes them more elastic, so they can stretch (and not break) in response to high blood pressure spikes.
Again, the more consistently it is consumed, the greater the effect. After three days, the arterial elasticity was improved by approximately 40 percent. By day five, it was up to 65 percent. After one week, it had improved by 70 percent! This kind of high cocoa infusion is reversible, however. When it was withdrawn for a week, the arteries' stretchiness started returning back to baseline.
From your heart to your head, from your muscles to your metabolism—your love of chocolate is totally returned. And by choosing high-cocoa chocolates and consistently having some every day, you can nurture this loving relationship. Win-win!