It's World Chocolate Day today (July 7) and while this means we're totally allowed to crack open a bar to mark the day, it might help ease the guilt to know that there are plenty of reasons chocolate is good for you.
Yep, chocoholics rejoice, because science has confirmed that there are plenty of health benefits to our favourite treat.
Research published in the British Journal of Nutrition has linked 100g of chocolate a day to reduced insulin resistance and improved liver enzymes.
And the good news doesn’t stop there choc fans - further research published in the journal Appetite found that regular chocolate intake is also associated with better cognitive brain function, including a stronger memory and reasoning skills.
So eating 100g of chocolate a day could lead to a healthier and smarter you.
There are plenty of other benefits of the chocolatey stuff, so, today let’s celebrate chocolate and take a look at the top reasons why you should treat yourself to a bar (or several) this World Chocolate Day.
It gives you a happy hit
Ever find yourself reaching for the chocolate to ease a bad mood? You may be onto something as chocolate is known to be high in mood-boosting chemicals. Findings published in the scientific journal Nutritional Neuroscience have suggested that the food can even help reduce the symptoms of depression.
Further research by City Pantry also revealed dark chocolate to be among the best mood-enhancing foods.
The Productivity Pick-Me-Ups study found that dark chocolate can have a positive impact on our wellbeing, thanks to its ability to lower inflammation, improve brain function and even reduce the risk of heart disease.
According to Dr Uma Naidoo, psychiatrist and nutrition specialist, for a happiness hit we should be looking to eat foods that reduce inflammation, like dark chocolate, as this causes low energy levels and fatigue.
“Low-grade inflammation flips off a metabolic switch in the chemical pathway that produces energy," she explains.
"When inflammation is present in the body, less energy is available to the brain, so it’s important to eat anti-inflammatory foods to ensure people wake up in a good mood and stay energised and focused through the entire morning.
“This means pursuing a diet that’s rich in colourful, non-starchy vegetables that add polyphenols, which fight inflammation, stabilise your insulin levels and nurture your brain, gut microbiome and overall body." And those foods include dark chocolate!
Read more: Fasting 'no magic bullet' for weight loss
It helps you sleep
Turns out the secret to a blissful night's slumber could very well be the scent of chocolate. Research has shown that a certain type of brain activity associated with alertness, known as theta, drops significantly when we smell chocolate, resulting in a more relaxed state of mind that could help us feel more ready for bed.
Chocolate also contains a few vitamins and minerals that can help regulate our sleep, such as calcium, magnesium, and theobromine. Consuming cocoa also reduces stress and anxiety (Psychology Today), both of which can keep us awake at night, so enjoying a cup, a bar, or a few squares before bed could well help you relax.
"While it's true that chocolate contains a few things we'd best avoid before bed — namely sugar and caffeine — the psychological effect it can have outweighs how many stimulants are in it," explains Phil Lawlor, Sleep Expert at Dormeo.
"A cup of hot cocoa or a few delicious squares can help us wind down in the evening and may even have soporific effects, but if you're still worried about consuming stimulants too close to bedtime, it's good to know that just the smell of chocolate can be enough to make us feel calm."
It boosts your libido
As well as being known for its powerful antioxidant properties; chocolate's high-flavonoid content is also documented for its beneficial effects on mood and cognition, having possible anti-depressant effects.
And this could have a knock-on impact on libido. A recent study found that young women consuming chocolate regularly had higher desire scores than those who did not eat it. Dark chocolate has the highest polyphenol content so aim to use 70% cocoa and above.
Explaining how chocolate and other foods can help improve your bedroom mood, Lauren Craven-Niemczyk, nutritionist at Feel explains:
“Food and nutrients are amazing healers, and for centuries the aphrodisiac properties of food have been utilised to boost fertility and a person’s drive in the bedroom.
"The same is still true today, and you’d be amazed how the slight inclusion of an ingredient, such as chocolate, can have a profound effect between the sheets."
Watch: This chocolate heart filled with two pounds of Nutella is lighting up Instagram.
It's good for the skin
While skin lotions and potions can help keep your skin looking youthful, turns out chocolate also has an effect in keeping wrinkles at bay. Chocolate contains a high level of antioxidants, which help to fight the free radicals that can lead to wrinkles.
"A high percentage of cocoa (70% and above) is abundant in inflammation-fighting phytochemicals and antioxidants that counteract genetic predisposition to inflammation," explains an expert from LQ Collagen
"The higher the percentage of cocoa in the chocolate, the higher its anti-inflammatory effect."
It's good for your teeth
Dark chocolate may be one of our greatest temptations, but according to Dr Khaled Kasem, Chief Orthodontist at Impress Orthodontics it is also pretty sweet at helping to fight cavities due to its grain containing powerful anti-bacterial agents.
"However, this doesn’t mean you should be indulging in chocolate, as you only need a small amount to benefit," he adds.
It helps you live longer
Cocoa beans are packed with antioxidants which studies have found can help fight disease and cut your risk of heart disease. Research published in the British Medical Journal found that chocolate could lower your risk of heart disease by over a third.
"Dark chocolate has been associated with improved vascular function, reducing blood pressure and supporting heart health due to its polyphenol and theobromine content," explains nutritionist Jenna Hope.
"Cocoa is also rich in magnesium which among its 600+ roles, plays a key role in muscle and nerve relaxation and energy production," Hope continues.
"Cocoa also provides some calcium and iron too which are important for supporting bone health and transporting oxygen around the body."
It makes you a better employee
According to Aisling Moran, nutritional scientist at Thriva, dark chocolate contains flavonols — a type of antioxidant. "Flavonols are thought to help improve your brain function and help you cope better with stressful situations," she explains.
"The higher the cocoa solids in the chocolate, the better." So next time you're struggling to cope with a stressful situation at work, reach for the chocolate. Science itself says it's OK.