About 10 or 15 years ago, research came out suggesting that eating chocolate was good for you. It supposedly had something to do with positive effects on arachidonic acid metabolism and the health of the human heart.
People went nuts. Men and women who’d gone to great lengths to hide their Russell Stover assorted chocolates box for years could now store them openly on the same shelf as their spirulina. Citizens of Hershey, Pennsylvania rejoiced. Willy Wonka gave raises to all the Oompa Loompas and they all went on a weeklong bender.
People who took the advice to heart lived happily ever after. Until they died. Except for all the obesity, diabetes, and atherosclerosis in between.
As usual, the humans misinterpreted the information, ate lots of chocolate, and essentially invalidated what was initially good advice by growing less healthy instead of more healthy. The thing is, eating a chocolate bar every day can be hugely beneficial to human health in a number of ways, provided you’re eating the right kinds of chocolate or chocolate bars. It can also have various bodybuilding benefits, too.
What’s So Special About Chocolate?
Chocolate, or more specifically, the cocoa it’s made from, is rich in a couple of particular sub-groupings of polyphenols (a class of plant chemicals). These sub-groupings of polyphenols in chocolate are known as flavan-3-ols and proanthocyanins and they can do terrific things for the human body, including the following:
- Lower your risk of dying from a host of diseases: Meta analyses of people who eat a lot of cocoa report a 37% lower risk of cardiovascular disease (five studies), a 31% reduction in diabetes (one study), and a 29% lower risk of stroke (three studies). Cocoa polyphenols help the cardiovascular system by reducing the incidence of arrhythmias and heart disease in general by lowering blood pressure and improving endothelial function, while its effects on diabetes relate to its ability to increase insulin sensitivity.
- Facilitate stronger erections: Cocoa augments nitric oxide (NO) levels, which in turn allows more blood to flow into the penis when sexually excited.
- Improve gut health: The flavan-3-ols in cocoa have been shown to increase butyrate, an anti-inflammatory compound that influences intestinal homeostasis and energy metabolism by improving intestinal barrier function and mucosal immunity. This qualifies cocoa as an actual pre-biotic food.
- Help grow muscle: Flavan-3-ols also inhibit myostatin, a factor that inhibits muscle growth, while simultaneously stimulating the production of follistatin, which functions to increase muscle growth.
- Act as a natural “nerve tonic”: Cocoa is a proven neuro-protectant (it protects nerves from disease or chemical assault), along with improving nerve function and cognition.
So What’s the Healthiest Type of Chocolate to Eat?
Years ago, pretty much your only choice was buying milk chocolate bars because Europeans ate dark chocolate and Americans ate milk chocolate, thank you very much, you commie bastard.
The trouble is, the darker varieties of chocolate are the healthful ones since they have a lot more of the juicy polyphenols we want, in addition to containing more caffeine, which acts synergistically with the polyphenols. The cocoa polyphenols increase the cognitive-enhancing effects of caffeine while simultaneously reducing its jitter-causing effects.
Old-fashioned American chocolate bars were also confectionerily jacked up with lots and lots of sugar, in addition to worrisome amounts of heart-gunky trans fat. As a result, they probably inadvertently negated any of the healthful effects of the limited amount of cocoa polyphenols they contained.
Some of the newer chocolate bars have fewer of these nutritional drawbacks. Play it safe, though, by looking for bars with the following properties:
- It should be made with dark chocolate that contains at least 70% cocoa. Avoid milk chocolate.
- It should have a short ingredient list, containing not much more than milk solids, lactose, casein, whey, and butter fat.
Luckily, many of the new keto chocolate bars on the market fit the bill and use, as a bonus, either natural sweeteners or no added sugars. Eating one (a small one) or half of a larger one every day should pose no problems and actually be healthful, as long as you take into consideration their high-fat content and make adjustments elsewhere in your diet.
- Ali Boolani, Jacob B. Lindheimer, Bryan D. Loy, Stephen. “Acute effects of brewed cocoa consumption on attention, motivation to perform cognitive work and feelings of anxiety, energy and fatigue: a randomized, placebo-controlled crossover experiment,” BMC, 13 January 2017.
- Frage, Cesar, et al. “The effects of polyphenols and other bioactives on human health.” Food and Function, Issue 2, 2019.
- Guitierrez-Salmean, Gabriela, et al. “Effects of epicatechin on molecular modulators of skeletal muscle growth and differentiation.” The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, 2014. PubMed, PMC.
- Yu, PL. “Effects of catechin, epicatechin and epigallocatechin gallate on testosterone production in rat leydig cells.” Journal of Cellular Biochemistry, 2010. PubMed-NCBI.