Dark chocolate is good for you as flavonols, natural compounds in the cocoa bean, have neuro-protective effects. Therefore, they improve blood flow to the brain, especially the hippocampus that controls memory and becomes less efficient as we age*. Apparently flavonols also help to maintain heart health.
Apparently the effect is more pronounced in women and can help those who have had a bad night’s sleep.
A 50g bar of dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa) contains the same concentration of flavonols as two glasses of red wine, six apples or seven onions. Future You, supplements manufacturer, has developed what has been dubbed a ‘chocolate pill’, Blood Flow+ which contains CocoActiv, a highly potent cocoa flavanol extract. This is equivalent to a giant bar of chocolate but only has five calories. CocoActiv, the active ingredient in Blood Flow+ has been officially recognised by the European Food Safety Authority following studies which show that the high-quality cocoa flavanols help to maintain the flexibility of blood vessels and contribute to normal blood flow and circulation.
Milk chocolate is not as high in cocoa but is much higher in sugar, so it does not have the same effect. But the health warning is that chocolate contains fat so it will also help you to gain weight, if you don’t stick to the moderate amount of two or three squares a day. And it contains caffeine so too much too late in the day can have the opposite effect and stop you sleeping.
In the past, research at Harvard Medical School showed that cocoa flavanols can lower blood pressure by producing nitric oxide in the body, with benefits equal to that of aspirin. Similarly flavanols can improve the cardiovascular system and prevent heart disease, and deep vein thrombosis, which can occur when you fly.
One of the other chemical compounds in chocolate is phenylethylamine, which is a stimulant similar to dopamine and adrenaline in the body. It is said to induce the feelings of falling in love, so maybe that’s why chocolate is so popular!
* (Source: Frontiers In Nutrition, 2017; 4: doi: 10.3389/fnut.2017.00019)