The act of breaking off a square of rich, sweet chocolate at work or before bed feels, well, naughty. Perhaps we glance to our left and right to make sure no one’s watching before we slide a bar out of a desk drawer and indulge. Chocolate is so, so satisfying, and yet can be so guilt-inducing.
Why is that? Is it because we believe something that tastes so good can't possibly be good for us?
Let’s dispel that myth once and for all. We’re not saying anyone should gorge themselves on chocolate, or even eat it every day. But research consistently points to the health benefits of eating a small amount of chocolate from time—especially the dark variety.
Take this week’s research paper du jour, for instance. In a paper published in the journal Appetite, researchers from the University of South Australia report that eating chocolate at least weekly can boost cognitive function and brain health—including memory and focus. More than 900 people between 23 and 98 were asked about their chocolate intake over a 30-year period, and were routinely subjected to a battery of tests analyzing their ability to understand spatial differences, process new and existing information, focus on specific objects, and verbal memory. Participants who ate chocolate at least once a week performed slightly better than those who did not.
While the researchers aren’t certain of all the reasons why, cocoa does contain flavanols that improve blood flow to the brain and small amounts of caffeine, which can boost alertness.
“We would recommend that a small intake of chocolate once or twice weekly may be incorporated into a healthy, balanced diet,” Dr. Georgie Crichton told Medical News Today. “And for those of us who prefer milk chocolate over dark, this may be good news.”
This study is not the first to connect chocolate consumption with health benefits. A study earlier this month suggested that women who eat chocolate daily during pregnancy may improve fetal growth and development, and a British study last year found associations between chocolate consumption and lower risk of heart disease and stroke.
Again, these studies should not be read as a hall pass to gorge yourself on chocolate and cocoa treats. And certainly, it's best to any dessert full of other not-so-good-for-us ingredients—like butter, lard, or added sugar—sparingly. But feel free to proudly break off a square or two of that pure, organic, fair-trade chocolate you’ve been hiding.
Come out of the shadows and embrace a good thing—in moderation.
Photo credit: Alicia Cho