On the one hand, we’re told chocolate is too fatty to be good for us. On the other, it’s so loaded with antioxidants that you’d be crazy not to eat it, with a study released last year finding that gram for gram chocolate contains more health-promoting polyphenols and flavones than fruit juice.

Description: Description: we’re told chocolate is too fatty to be good for us

The truth is a combination of both, with scientists continuing to add the list of ways chocolate boosts and protects health, while at the same time acknowledging that less is definitely more when it comes to how much you should eat.

So, from fighting tooth decay and heart disease to easing emotional stress and improving your sight, here’s what the latest scientific studies reveal about the many health benefits of chocolate.

Eases emotional stress

After two weeks of eating 40g of chocolate a day, volunteers in a Swiss study, chosen because they were experiencing high levels of stress, reported significant reduction in stress hormones and other stress-related biochemical changes. The scientists behind the research say it gives merit to the idea that chocolate is a salve in times of emotional turmoil.

Fights tooth decay

A cocoa-powder extract that occurs naturally in chocolate is being considered as a potential addition to toothpaste by American researchers, in the fight against cavities. A white, crystalline powder, the extract helps harden tooth enamel, something that makes teeth less susceptible to decay, and is potentially more effective than fluoride at protecting against cavities.

Protect against stroke

Canadian researchers discovered that people who ate just one serve of chocolate a week were 22 per cent less likely to have a stroke compared to people who stuck to chocolate-free diets. Saying the protection may be thanks to chocolate’s high flavonoid content, the same researchers also revealed how the sweet treat was beneficial even in the event of a stroke, with chocolate eaters being 46 per cent less likely to die after they’d had one.

Description: Description: Chocolate is typically high in saturated fat

Lowers blood pressure

Adelaide-based researchers say the flavones in chocolate promote vasodilation, where blood vessels widen, to lower blood pressure in people with hypertension. Comparing the reduction in systolic blood pressure to that induced by 30 minutes of daily physical activity, researchers believe it may add up to a 20 per cent reduction in the risk of a cardiovascular event over a five-year period. But it’s important to remember that less is more, with a separate study finding that a 125kJ serve of chocolate a day was enough to produce a positive effect on blood pressure.

Improve your eyesight

UK scientists recently proved that low-contrast eyesight, which is the type you need to see in situations like bad weather, improves after eating dark chocolate. The University of Reading researchers say the result, like many of chocolate’s health benefits, is down to flavones, antioxidants that increase blood flow to the brain and retina.

The darker the chocolate, the healthier it is, right?

Sometimes, but not always. It’s natural to assume that the darker the chocolate, the more cocoa it contains so the more antioxidants it provides, but it depends on how the chocolate is processed.

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Research shows that methods used to decrease cocoa’s naturally bitter flavor – including fermentation, alkalizing and roasting – can significantly reduce flavone levels and boost color intensity, which means you can’t necessarily judge a chocolate’s antioxidant content by its color or cocoa reading. Researchers are encourage chocolate manufacturers to start listing flavone levels on labels, but until that happens, they still recommend choosing dark, cocoa-rish chocolate over milk varieties, and opting for brands that don’t use “Dutched cocoa”, which reduces bitterness but eliminates antioxidants.

Know your limits

Chocolate is typically high in saturated fat, a type of fat which, according to the Heart Foundation, should make up less seven per cent of your total daily energy intake. As a guide, to stick to the amount of kilojoules recommended for the average Australian adult, it means eating no more than 16g of saturated fat a day. Here’s what a 30g serve of different types of chocolate contains.

·         Dark chocolate: 5.1g saturated fat = 32 per cent of daily intake.

·         Milk chocolate: 5.6g saturated fat = 35 per cent of daily intake.

·         White chocolate: 6.5g saturated fat = 40.5 per cent of daily intake.

·         Milk chocolate with nuts: 4.3g saturated fat = 27 per cent of daily intake.

·         Milk chocolate with creamy filling: 4.6g saturated fat = 29 per cent of daily intake.

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