For a nutritious sugar hit, embrace the dark side…
The best news we’ve heard all year: studies prove chocolate is good for more than a broken heart. The secret behind its powerful punch: cacao. Packed with healthy flavonoids and the chemical theobromine (which widens blood vessels), this little bean is a disease-fighting bullet. The problem? Cacao is bitter, chalky and hardly palatable. Enter milk, sugar and butter – great for tastebuds, not so for health. Besides adding kilojoules, they dilute cacao’s benefits. So stick to chocolate with at least 70 per cent cacao – or cocoa, which is cacao in roasted, ground form – says Dr Mary Engler, a professor of physiological nursing. And limit yourself to 200g a week (that’s two blocks of Lindt Excellence).
A healthier heart
The brown stuff can reduce blood pressure, increase the flexibility of veins and arteries, and cut down on stroke and heart attack risk. Most of the credit goes to flavonoids, which kill off free radicals, and polyphenols, (also found in red wine). Polyphenols are known to prevent LDL (bad) cholesterol from oxidising into a form that damages arteries.
Tastes better than: an apple, which has only 20 per cent of the flavonoids of a dark chockie bar.
Cough reliefA study by Imperial College London found that chocolate is around 30 per cent more effective at suppressing persistent coughs than anything available from pharmacies. A stimulant called theobromine, which also provokes chocolate’s feel-good effect, appears to suppress the activity of the vagus nerve, which is responsible for coughing. Theobromine was found to be about a third more effective than codeine, which is regarded the best available cough medicine.
Tastes better than: codeine, which can leave you sleepy and dull.
Happier kidsBabies whose mums ate chocolate daily during their pregnancy are happier than babies whose mums rarely ate it. A study of 300 women by the University of Helsinki in Finland found the babies of chocolate-eating mothers smiled and laughed more, and showed less fear of new situations, possibly because the feel-good effects of the sweet are passed on to little ones.
Tastes better than: chewing on your screaming kid’s dummy.
Guard against diabetes
Confectionery a diabetes foe? Sure is! In an Italian study, participants who ate a bar of dark chocolate once a day for 15 days saw their potential for insulin resistance drop by almost half. “Flavonoids increase nitric oxide production,” says the study’s lead researcher Dr Claudio Ferri, a professor at the University of L’Aquila in Italy. “And that helps control insulin sensitivity.”
Tastes better than: cherries, which have just 18 per cent.