5 Legitimate Health Benefits You'll Reap From Eating Chocolate

According to RDs, the food many of us crave most has a number of nutritional benefits to offer.

As if we needed one more reason to love chocolate. According to Abbie Gellman, MS, RD, CDN, and chef at the Institute of Culinary Education, this treat has health benefits, like antioxidants and amino acids. When consumed in moderation, chocolate helps protect your cardiovascular system and reduce inflammation, among other things.

Read on to find what you'll reap from your favorite chocolate desserts, like Chocolate-covered strawberries, Hot chocolate bombs, Truffles, and Flourless spiced hot chocolate cake (yes, please). And a quick word to the wise: Going overboard on the sugary stuff will counteract cacao's health-promoting properties.

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Chocolate is rich in antioxidants.

"Chocolate is packed with a variety of flavonoids; one square of dark chocolate provides approximately 140 milligrams of flavonoids," says Gellman. "These flavonoid antioxidants have been shown to have a positive effect on cardiovascular disease risk. For instance, research has shown that these flavonoids are protective against damage to the lining of the arteries. They also work—similar to a low dose of aspirin—to prevent blood platelets from clumping together and forming blood clots, which may lead to heart attack or stroke."

For the biggest flavonoid bang for your caloric buck, Gellman recommends choosing high quality, semi-sweet dark chocolate with the highest cocoa content that suits your palate. "I recommend 70-85 percent cacao; but the higher the percentage, the more bitter it may taste."

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It helps fight inflammation and regulate blood pressure.

According to Gellman, chocolate can provide significant amounts of arginine, an amino acid required in the production of nitric oxide. Because it causes blood vessels to dilate, nitric oxide helps to regulate blood flow, inflammation, and blood pressure.

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Its plant sterols contribute to heart health.

"Chocolate contains small amounts of sitosterol and stigmasterol, which are plant sterols, Gellman explains. "These plant sterols compete with and therefore inhibit the absorption of dietary cholesterol. This may contribute to improved blood lipid profiles.".

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It helps to increase insulin sensitivity.

In addition, the flavonoids in dark chocolate may help increase insulin sensitivity. "Essentially, this may be good news for type 2 diabetics," Gellman says.

Insulin is a hormone secreted by our pancreas that controls the amount of glucose in our bloodstream. It also helps to store glucose in our fat, muscles, and liver as well as regulate our overall metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.

Insulin is what is lacking or hindered in diabetics and pre-diabetics. Basically, insulin sensitivity is an important part of our body's proper response to food. "Research has suggested that people who eat a moderate amount of dark chocolate at least once a week had a lower prevalence of type 2 diabetes. Studies have also shown that those with type 2 diabetes who consumed moderate amounts of dark chocolate had lower blood pressure and decreased blood-sugar levels compared to those who ate white chocolate."

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It boosts satisfaction and satiety.

The fiber, fat, and protein content of chocolate may help increase satiety, or a feeling of fullness.

Just remember: These findings aren't an Rx to OD on chocolate. While the compounds found in cocoa may provide some powerful health benefits, there are many other nutritious whole foods that offer significantly greater antioxidant, heart health, and blood-sugar regulating benefits with a lot less sugar.

Still, chocolate sparks serious joy, which certainly counts for something.

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