Beauty Benefits of Dark Chocolate: Sweet-aholics, rejoice! Chocolate is proven to boost your beauty.

ThinkstockThinkstockEating for beauty doesn't mean a lifetime sentence of salad (although leafy greens do wonders for your looks!). Indulge in the ultimate treat-chocolate-and reap some pretty major beauty and health rewards while you're at it.

Chocolate and beauty
The good news is some chocolate can have significant beauty benefits. The not terribly bad news is, the only chocolate that can deliver these benefits is dark chocolate with at least 70 percent cocoa content-which doesn't apply to most treats found in the candy aisle at the grocery store, so choose wisely.

On the heart front, "cocoa contains naturally occurring plant substances called flavonoids that help keep platelets less sticky, decreasing your risk for heart attack or stroke from a clot," explains Kristin Kirkpatrick, R.D., M.S., Wellness Manager for Cleveland Clinic's Lifestyle 180 program, and YouBeauty Nutrition Advisor.

According to Kirkpatrick, dark chocolate relaxes blood vessels, which in turn reduces blood pressure. Several studies suggest that it may also be a feel-good treat that increases production of mood-enhancing neurotransmitters.

Dark chocolate also helps combat beauty's public enemy number one: Stress. Cocoa helps reduce stress hormones, which means less collagen breakdown in the skin, and fewer wrinkles.

Flavonols (the type of flavonoid found in chocolate) help your skin look its best. Flavonols are antioxidants that help your skin protect itself from UV damage (hello, fewer wrinkles) fight free radicals (so long, sun spots) and increase blood flow (i.e. dewy glow!).

In one study, flavonols in dark chocolate even improved skin hydration and thickness-both mega important for young-looking skin.

Portions matter
Though the right dark chocolate clearly has concrete beauty benefits, you have to keep portion control in mind. If you eat a 12-ounce bar, you're getting a lot more than just flavonoids-you're also getting fat, sugar and lots of calories.

"The research indicates that two to three ounces of 70-plus percent dark chocolate a week is all you need to reap the health benefits," says Kirkpatrick. "To satisfy your daily cravings without blowing your diet, a one-ounce square in the afternoon or as a mini-dessert at after dinner is fine."

How to shop for chocolate
"When you're shopping for dark chocolate, read the label and ingredients carefully," says Thierry Muret, Godiva Executive Chef Chocolatier. Most dark chocolate bars with 70 percent or more cocoa clearly label it on the front of the package, but if you're unclear, flip it over. "If the first ingredient is milk or sugar, the bar is not going to have 70 percent or more cocoa content," continues Muret.

How do you know if you have quality chocolate? Muret believes that quality can really only be assessed by the taste, texture and ingredient content-not fancy packaging. High-quality chocolate will feel smooth in the mouth and not grainy at all.

Don't be surprised to find wide taste variations from bar to bar. According to Muret, a smoother, more floral flavor comes from South American (particularly Venezuelan) beans, while a more pronounced earthiness is usually the mark of beans from Ghana or the Ivory Coast.

One thing to keep in mind: The beneficial flavonoids give dark chocolate a slightly bitter taste (the darker you go, the more bitter it gets). If you're eating a bar that tastes a little too sweet, it's possible that the flavonoids were stripped out to make the chocolate taste more consumer-friendly. If you're skeptical, move on to the next.

Bottom line
If chocolate is your weakness, indulging in an ounce of the good stuff (dark with 70 percent or more cocoa content) each day is not only a delicious treat, but also provides benefits for your heart, skin and whole body.

- Lisa Schweitzer


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