As if chocolate lovers ever need a reason to enjoy the sweet deliciousness that is chocolate, new research suggests that cocoa and dark chocolate contain surprising amounts of vitamin D2, a vitamin that can help fight the winter blues (among other health benefits). Researchers at the Martin Luther University (MLU) Halle-Wittenberg and the Max Rubner-Institut published their findings in the journal Food Chemistry. They found that chocolate in many of its delectable forms has significant amounts of vitamin D2, which is good news for people who like chocolate because, the researchers say, the human body needs vitamin D for strong bones and decreased risk of respiratory diseases.
"Many people do not get enough vitamin D,” nutritionist Professor Gabriele Stangl from MLU said in a news release. “The problem increases in the winter months when sunshine is scarce.”
According to Medical News Today, vitamin D is known as the “sunshine vitamin” because it’s produced by the body’s exposure to sunshine, but it can also be obtained through foods or supplements. Besides helping keep our bones healthy, says Medical News Today, vitamin D also supports our immune systems, regulates our insulin levels, and supports our cardiovascular health. Long winter days with less sunlight can decrease a person’s vitamin D levels, causing seasonal effective disorder (SAD) or the winter blues, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The researchers said in a news release that chocolate was a previously unknown source of vitamin D. People get 90 percent of their vitamin D from the sun, the researchers say, which is why they wanted to investigate whether it could be another potential source for the vital nutrient. According to the Express, the researchers found that cocoa butter and dark chocolate contain the highest levels of vitamin D, while milk chocolate and white chocolate have the lowest levels of vitamin D.
But chocolate lovers should still keep in mind that this new health benefit still comes with the same sugar content, so moderation is key. Plus, "you would have to eat enormous amounts of chocolate to cover your vitamin D2 requirements,” Stangl said in the news release.
That’s not to say you can’t add chocolate to your repertoire of other vitamin D-rich foods. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), other foods that are chock-full of vitamin D include lots of different fish, such as swordfish, tuna, or sardines. There’s also some dairy staples, such as yogurt, milk, and cheese, says the NIH, as well as orange juice fortified in vitamin D. And then there’s eggs and even beef liver, according to the NIH.
Although this might be less exciting for chocolate lovers who probably enjoy chocolate for its sweet taste, the researchers are looking into sugar-free foods containing cocoa, that provide the same health benefits without the risks of consuming the sugar, the researchers said in a news release. "Cocoa is an exciting raw food material because it contains additional secondary plant substances that, for example, benefit the cardiovascular system," Stangl said in a news release.
But until the researchers come up with that sugar-free option, regular ‘ole chocolate is a fine source of vitamin D. Whether you pair it with other vitamin D-rich foods or just enjoy it on its own, it’s still a way to add sunshine to your life — in more ways than one.