It's World Chocolate Day today (7 July) – and while we don't need a celebratory day to crack open a bar – it's a great time to learn why we don't always need to feel guilty about it.
In fact, chocoholics can rejoice, because science has shown there are plenty of health benefits to our favourite treat.
For example, 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 – further research published in the journal Appetite found that regular chocolate intake is associated with better cognitive brain function, including a stronger memory and reasoning skills.
It seems eating 100g of chocolate a day could lead to a healthier and smarter you. But, for the boring part, adults are advised to have no more than 30g of added sugars a day (which is often found in chocolate), so perhaps the less sweetened options are the way to go for a daily intake.
And with plenty of other health benefits, here's a look at the reasons why you should enjoy a bar this World Chocolate Day.
1. It gives you a happy hit
Ever find yourself reaching for the chocolate to ease a bad mood? Your instincts are right, as chocolate is known to be high in mood-boosting chemicals. Findings published in the scientific journal Nutritional Neuroscience suggested that the food can even help reduce the symptoms of mild depression.
And further research by City Pantry unearthed dark chocolate in particular to be among the best mood-enhancing foods.
Plus, the Productivity Pick-Me-Ups study found that dark choc can have a positive impact on our overall 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!
2. 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, reports Psychology Today, both of which can keep us awake at night. So, again, enjoying a cup, 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."
Though 'just' smelling chocolate would, understandably, require too much self-restraint for most.
3. It boosts your libido
As well as being known for its powerful antioxidant properties; chocolate's high flavonoid content (from plants) is also documented for its beneficial effects on mood and cognition, another reason for having potential anti-depressant effects.
But this could have a knock-on impact on libido too. A recent study found that young women consuming chocolate regularly had higher desire scores than those who didn't eat it. Dark chocolate has the highest polyphenol content (natural organic compounds) 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."
4. It's good for the skin
While a great moisturiser can help keep your skin looking youthful, turns out chocolate can also help keep wrinkles at bay. Chocolate contains a high level of antioxidants, which help to fight the free radicals that can lead to wrinkles (as they can damage cells).
"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."
5. It's good for your teeth
Dark chocolate already seems to have an abundance of benefits, but surprisingly, according to Dr Khaled Kasem, chief orthodontist at Impress Orthodontics, it can also help 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.
6. It helps you live longer
Cocoa beans are packed with antioxidants, which studies have found can help 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 adds, "Cocoa also provides some calcium and iron too which are important for supporting bone health and transporting oxygen around the body."
7. It could make you a better employee
Dark chocolate contains flavonols — a type of antioxidant, according to Aisling Moran, nutritional scientist at Thriva. "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, don't feel guilty about reaching for the chocolate.
Watch: Two rescued after falling into chocolate tank at Mars factory