Now that the Easter break has come and gone, we'll probably still feel a little sinful that we have chocolate left over, and even more guilty for continuing to indulge. We needn't fear. Despite having a rich and illustrious history dating back to Ancient Mayan times when it was renowned for its healing powers, chocolate has learnt itself a bad reputation as one of the nation's guilty pleasures. And yet scientific studies have proven time and time again that perhaps the Mayans were onto something because, when eaten in moderation, good quality chocolate (that's dark chocolate consisting of 70% cocoa or more rather than the milky, sugary variety) can actually have a number of health benefits for mind, body and soul. If you want to enjoy a guilt-free Easter, here are just a few of the reasons why your dark chocolate eggs could be good for you.
It's good for the heart
A number of studies have shown a link between chocolate and good heart health. This is thought to be linked to the properties of the flavonoids found in the cocoa bean that can help reduce inflammation and also reduce clogging of the arteries leading to lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, lower risk of stroke and consequently a lower risk of cardiovascular problems. One study carried out in Norfolk showed that out of 21,000 people tested over a period of 11 years, out of the group who consumed the most chocolate, only 12% developed heart problems in comparison to 17% of those who avoided chocolate.
It helps you diet
Yes, really. Because in a society where we are constantly presented with ideological representations of 'the perfect body image' it can sometimes feel like the only way to meet this expectation is to cut out anything remotely bad for you altogether. But by depriving yourself of the things that you enjoy, you increase the likelihood of eventually cracking and bingeing on it. Incorporating a sensible amount of 'treats' such as chocolate into your diet is a much more sustainable way to maintain a healthy diet where balance is key. Not only this, but studies suggest that savouring two squares of dark chocolate shortly before a meal can actually mean you won't eat as much – the chocolate sends signals to the brain that tell you you're full and therefore reduce appetite.
It improves cognitive function
Chocolate is also thought to aid with cognitive function and go some way to protecting the brain from age-related memory loss. Once again this is thought to be down to its anti-inflammatory properties which increase blood flow to the brain also keeping you alert, focused and improving problem-solving ability. Because it is loaded with antioxidants, it also helps protect the brain from free radical damage which can also cause premature ageing and other types of brain disease.
It helps fights diseases
On the subject of antioxidants, did you know that dark chocolate can contain more antioxidants than blueberries? This, alongside the healthy dose of minerals such as iron and zinc, helps strengthen the body's natural defences making you less susceptible to nasty bugs and viruses. It is thought to increase insulin sensitivity which may delay the onset of diabetes and early research on artificially induced cancers indicates that the antioxidants present in dark chocolate may even slow down the rate of tumour growth.
It makes you happy
Chocolate is known as one of the ultimate comfort foods and there's a good reason for that: it is packed with feel good endorphins that have a calming effect on the body. Not only do they improve mood but they reduce stress and anxiety. It contains compounds such as tryptophan which is similar to serotonin – the ultimate 'happy hormone' which floods us with a sense of positivity and happiness. It also contains the same sort of compound that triggers the warm, fuzzy sensation of being in love within our brains. And in addition to all of this, some studies have shown a link between consuming chocolate and pain relief so you can see why chocolate can be a popular craving for women suffering from PMT or anyone who is feeling a little down in the dumps.