For many people, trying to live a healthier lifestyle can be a challenge. Replacing a Sunday afternoon of lounging on the couch in front of the TV with an intense aerobic workout and eschewing dessert while asking for seconds on vegetables isn't exactly most people's idea of fun. Because of this, some people try to find exceptions to the rules of their diet plans or bend the definition of the term "healthy." Others take a more creative approach and try to find justifications for why their favorite foods are beneficial. While this can lead to absurd complaints - "But strawberry cheesecake has fruit in it!" - there are some stealth health foods that have scientifically-backed benefits. One of these unsuspectingly advantageous foods is chocolate.
That's right - chocolate has benefits other than comforting you after a stressful day of work or a nasty break-up. Although some point to the caffeine in chocolate as potentially beneficial, the amount isn't very high compared to other potential sources. So what's so great about chocolate (in addition to the taste)? Scientists recently sought to answer that question, and their results were published in the latest issue of the Journal of Proteome Research. For those who don't subscribe to that fine publication, here are the details of the study.
Researchers gathered a group of men and women and assigned them to consume 40 grams of dark chocolate each day over the course of two weeks. The researchers took blood and urine samples before, at the halfway point, and at the end of the study. Despite the short duration of the study, scientists found significant benefits from the dark chocolate consumption. In the participants who identified that they had anxiety issues prior to the study, there were notable reductions in cortisol and adrenaline concentration in their biological fluid samples. Cortisol is best known as the "stress hormone," because it is released when the body is under stress, such as during the body's "flight or fight" response to fear. While it can provide a quick burst of energy, chronically elevated cortisol levels are dangerous and can lead to heart disease, decreased muscle tissue and increased abdominal fat. Similarly, adrenaline is released in similar situations and is a marker of stress.
The researchers believed that the modifications were due to the chocolate's effect on gut microflora. Regardless of the actual mechanism, though, the news is good for chocolate lovers everywhere - delicious and decadent dark chocolate has legitimate health benefits. However, this isn't an excuse to adopt an all-chocolate diet; while dark chocolate tends to be lower in sugar than milk chocolate, it still has high levels of fat and minimal protein, so it's not the ideal food. However, in moderation, chocolate does appear to have benefits.
1. Martin, F-P.J., et al. Metabolic Effects of Dark Chocolate Consumption on Energy, Gut Microbiota, and Stress-Related Metabolism in Free-Living Subjects. Journal of Proteome Research, 2010; 8: 5568-5579