If you have a "bit of chocolate a day" habit (I do!), you might already have heard of some of the research surrounding the health benefits of chocolate, which in its purer forms has been tied to heart and metabolic health, and it's also a source of antioxidants. Now it turns out that it might be a skin protector too.
A study in the Journal of Nutrition indicates that high-flavanol cocoa protects skin from UV rays. No, not when you slather it on the skin, but when you consuming it (a much more delicious option).
According to the journal article summary, "One group of women ingested 326 mg/d of high flavanol cocoa, rich in the antioxidants epicatechin and catechin, and another group consumed only 27 mg/d over a 12-week period. At the end, the high flavanol group showed decreased sensitivity to UV light, increased cutaneous and subcutaneous blood flow, skin hydration and thickness, as well as reduced roughness and scaling."
This means that those who consumed the chocolate drink with higher amounts of flavanols suffered less significant burns than those who had a drink with less. For those of us who are dedicated to the use of foods rather than drugs for healing, this is another drop in the bucket of research indicating that pure, healthy foods can keep us healthier for longer.
What this information does not mean is that eating a Kit Kat or Snickers bar every day is advisable. Processed chocolate candy that you find in the bodega, corner store or gas station contains very little cocoa, and what is there is low-quality chocolate grown in monoculture systems that are doused with fertilizers and chemicals. Not great for the Earth or your waistline, since it is then mixed with a lot of extra sugar, unhealthy fats and artificial flavors.
What this does mean is that seeking out and enjoying a small to moderate quantity of organic, fair-trade (and raw, if you can find it) dark chocolate may very well assist your skin in protection and self-repair. While you will notice that this chocolate is a little more expensive (if you buy in bulk when it's on sale, it only ends up costing about 10-20 percent more than conventional, processed candy), you need less of it and it lasts quite a while.
Once you get into trying and tasting real cacao, you will notice that chocolate from different regions tastes quite different, just like coffee — a far cry from the generic, overly-sweet taste of a Hershey bar.
I recommend the following brands as being both incredibly tasty, pretty easy to find (grocery stores, Whole Foods and online), fairly priced, and made without unnecessary ingredients:
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