With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I’m willing to bet your local grocery stores and farmer’s markets are brimming with all kinds of chocolate goodies. If you’re following The Myers Way® you might think you need to pass up all of that dark decadence on your way to the leafy greens and grass-fed beef, but wait just a second!

Chocolate actually has many health benefits, and it is my go-to choice for satisfying my sweet tooth. The key is to make sure that you choose the right kind of chocolate, we’re talking pure, dark chocolate, in order to get the maximum health benefits without any of the additives, genetically modified ingredients, or junk found in most supermarket candy.

To help make your Valentine’s Day a little sweeter this year, let’s talk about the eight reasons you should not skip the chocolate section, and how to choose the perfect The Myers Way® approved treats.

8 Health Benefits of Eating Chocolate

1. Chocolate is Anti-Inflammatory

Dark chocolate is packed with antioxidants, called flavonoids, that help reduce inflammation. Reducing inflammation is key to preventing and reversing chronic illness, and is the foundation of The Myers Way®.

Interestingly, your ability to reap the anti-inflammatory benefits of chocolate is dependent on the good bacteria in your gut! New research has shown that after you digest chocolate you’re left with long polyphenol polymers that are too big to pass through your gut lining and be absorbed for nutrients.1

However, once the digested chocolate reaches your colon, two specific friendly gut microbes, Bifidobacterium and lactic acid bacteria, ferment and break down these compounds into smaller anti-inflammatories that can be absorbed into your bloodstream. Yet another reason to make sure you maintain plenty of good gut bacteria by taking a daily probiotic!

2. Chocolate Helps Regulate Your Immune System

Research suggests that cocoa helps modulate the body’s immune response in those with autoimmune diseases.2

In a study done in rats who were given Rheumatoid Arthritis, those fed a diet high in cacao still experienced symptoms such as paw swelling, but their antibodies went down and their inflammatory blood markers decreased. The research is still in its early phases, but I’m interested to see what else we can learn about chocolate’s effect on the immune system.

3. Chocolate Protects Your Heart

Chocolate is brimming with nutrients to promote heart health! The flavonoids in chocolate help prevent heart disease by lowering your blood pressure and improving blood flow to your brain and heart.3

Dark chocolate also has a high concentration of resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant that reduces the risk of blood clots that can lead to a heart attack, and prevents the oxidation of “bad” LDL cholesterol. Chocolate is a great source of resveratrol, but I also recommend taking a resveratrol supplement.

4. Chocolate is Packed with Essential Thyroid Nutrients

In addition to flavonoids and resveratrol, chocolate is also loaded with iron, zinc, and selenium, three nutrients that are essential for thyroid health. All three of these nutrients are needed to convert inactive T4 thyroid hormones into their active T3 form.

5. Chocolate is Rich in Magnesium

Magnesium is a mineral that acts as a cofactor for more than 300 enzymes in the body. This means that magnesium helps your body perform many of its normal functions, like building proteins, maintaining muscle and nerve function, controlling your blood sugar, and regulating your blood pressure. Magnesium is also required in metabolism, bone development, DNA formation, and glutathione production.

6. Chocolate Improves Your Mood

And I don’t just mean because it’s delicious! Cacao, the purest form of chocolate, is a precursor to two important neurotransmitters, dopamine and serotonin. These chemicals act as messengers in your brain to regulate your mood.

7. Chocolate Boosts Your Brain

The all-important flavonoids found in dark chocolate may accumulate in the areas of your brain responsible for memory and cognition.4

Dark chocolate was also shown to increase attention span and improve cognitive abilities.5

8. Chocolate Can Contribute to Weight Loss

It’s true that while eating too much chocolate– especially chocolate loaded with additives, milk, and excess sugar– can cause weight gain, cacao has been shown to have a reverse effect because it contains dietary oleoylethanolamide, or OEA. OEA signals to your brain that you are full, and acts to curb your appetite. So eating a nice square of dark chocolate is a great way end to your meal and keep you feeling satisfied for longer.

Tips to Choose The Myers Way® Approved Treats

Clearly, there are many health benefits to eating chocolate. The trouble is that most chocolate is processed and full of unhealthy or even toxic additives that overshadow its positive effects. Here are a few tips for getting the maximum nutritional benefit from your chocolate, without the junk.

Make sure your chocolate is at least 85% cacao. The flavonoids that provide many of the health benefits of chocolate come from pure cacao, so the higher the percentage of cacao, the more beneficial your chocolate will be. Also, typically the more cacao there is, the less sugar, additives, and junk there is.

Choose dairy-free. Dairy inhibits the powerful antioxidants found in chocolate, and is of course very inflammatory. Skip the dairy-laden milk chocolate and stick with dark chocolate.

Go organic or certified non-GMO. Ninety-five percent of sugar grown in the U.S. is genetically modified beet sugar,6

so look for organic or non-GMO labels on your chocolate. Organic chocolate is usually sweetened with pure cane sugar or honey.

Skip the nuts. If you are following The Myers Way® Autoimmune Solution protocol and haven’t reintroduced nuts yet, then make sure to choose dark chocolate treats free of almonds and other nuts.

Enjoy in moderation. When it comes to chocolate, you really can have too much of a good thing, so keep your indulgence to one or two dark chocolate squares after a meal, and reserve the more decadent treats for special occasions.

Here are few of my personal favorites:

For a wonderful, nutrient-packed chocolate treat, check out this week’s featured recipe for Cinnamon-Cacao Coconut Custard. It will make the perfect Valentine’s Day dessert!

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The Autoimmune Solution and The Thyroid Connection - Amy Myers MD Books