The bright side of dark chocolate

Looking for the perfect Valentine’s gift or Easter surprise? Introduce your kids to the taste of dark chocolate and you’ll improve their health for eternity.

Dark chocolate has many beneficial health effects on adults including improved cardiovascular health, cholesterol, insulin levels, and it even improves mood. Few studies have looked at these effects on children. However since it is scientifically proven that children grow up to be adults, introducing kids to the unique flavor of dark chocolate is great preventive medicine.

Dark chocolate is loaded with nutrients, healthy fats and anti-oxidants. One class of compounds found in chocolate, the alkaloids, include caffeine and phenlyethylamine (PEA). PEA is the same chemical that your brain makes when you are falling in love. PEA releases endorphins, serotonin and dopamine, all of which make you feel happy and relaxed.

The powerful antioxidants in dark chocolate are anti-inflammatory and have such effects as protecting blood vessels and improving blood flow in the brain as well as increasing “good” HDL cholesterol and lowering “bad” LDL cholesterol.

Finally, dark chocolate is full of minerals like potassium, zinc, iron and selenium that the body needs to maintain basic metabolic processes.

The details of many of these positive effects are pretty well studied in adults with high blood pressure, and even Alzheimer’s disease. Though kids’ bodies are a little different, so these effects may not be as relevant.

However, there are a few effects that we know are beneficial in children.

The flavonoids in dark chocolate actually protect the skin from sun damage. Eating dark chocolate regularly before sun exposure reduced the redness from ultraviolet radiation by up to 25% in one study. The chemicals in chocolate increased the skin’s density and provided better skin hydration. You’ll still need sun block, but every bit of protection helps.

Chocolate also helps regulate your appetite. Melting a small square of dark chocolate on your tongue 20 minutes before a meal triggers hormones in the brain to signal that you’re full. Subjects in one study were brought to an all-you-can-eat buffet and ate far less after they had a square of dark chocolate. And a square after dinner prevents snacking later.

There is a direct correlation between a country’s annual per capita chocolate consumption and the number of Nobel laureates.

And for you pregnant moms who are avoiding sushi, soft cheese, wine and practically every other indulgence: Go ahead and eat dark chocolate! In one study dark chocolate reduced stress in pregnant moms and their babies smiled more than babies of non-chocolate eating parents.

With so many important nutrients and health benefits, I advise you skip your child’s multivitamin and replace it with a square of dark chocolate every day! Be sure to look for chocolate with more than 70% cocoa for the most benefits. The darker the chocolate, the less sugar it contains and the greater the positive effects. Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

 

TODAY.com Parenting Team Contributor

Author: Wendy Hunter, MD

Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, UC San Diego and pediatrician at Rady Children's Hospital, Department of Emergency Medicine.

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1 Comment

  1. wendyindurham@gmail.com'

    Thank you for this timely and informative article on chocolate and healthy reason to enjoy this treat – this is so welcome in a day of don’t eat this, don’t eat that!

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