Doctors are finally discovering what paddlers have known all along: SUP is good for us. Photo: Kristy Murphy

Drink hot chocolate, feel better, hang five more easily. It’s science. Photo: Kristy Murphy

Paddle Healthy |Five Health Benefits of Hot Chocolate

If you're lucky to live in a state or country that's warm at this time of year, good for you! For the rest of us, though, winter is still blowing, icing and snowing, and we've got a couple more months to go before our lakes and rivers unfreeze and let us back on the water.

A consolation prize for winter wonderland dwellers (other than the beauty of snowy trees and winter sports) is that certain foods and drinks just seem to taste better when Old Man Winter is doing his thing outside. One such drink is, of course, hot chocolate. And if you op for the real deal—the kind with a high percentage of cacao instead of Grandma's cheap instant mix—the health benefits abound, believe it or not. Here are five reasons why indulging your kids and yourself with a mug of that quintessential wintertime treat—quality hot chocolate (cacao, not cocoa)—isn't a bad thing for your body. We'll let you decide whether or not tell your kids it's that chocolate can actually be good for you.

1) Improved Circulation

Holding a cup of what the French call chocolat chaud sometimes seems enough to bring feeling back to hands chilled by winter winds. But actually drinking the contents will do far more for your circulation at the biological level. Studies have shown that consuming dark chocolate daily can improve blood flow as it makes blood vessels more flexible and enhances the efficiency of the endothelial cells that blood cells contain.

2) Heart Protection

Hot chocolate doesn't just taste good, but is also good for your heart. Research suggests that the high concentration of flavonoids in cocoa beans mitigate the free radical damage caused by LDL cholesterol. Reducing LDL buildup improves the function of arteries and prevents them becoming clogged. The flavonoids also thin the blood and impact the platelets that can lead to clog-related heart attacks. Dark chocolate is also believed to increase HDL ("good") cholesterol levels, which contributes to heart health.

3) Reduced Diabetes Risk

For the longest time, popular opinion (aka junk science) relegated chocolate to the candy category – meaning it was ostracized for being high in sugar. This might be the case with those nasty, low cost powdered mixes but is not so with high quality hot chocolate (look for cacao content above 70%). Better hot chocolates are not only low in sugar but, according to a Harvard study, improve insulin resistance and lower blood insulin levels. This means that hot chocolate can reduce the risk of diabetes.

4) Lower Blood Pressure

It's widely that chocolate can improves your mood, which is because it stimulates the release of endorphins in the brain , not to mention the lift from feel-good serotonin and the dopamine release brought on by the caffeine it contains. Yet in addition to elevating our mood, hot chocolate can also help us relax, at least on a cellular level. Nutritional scientists have discovered that high cacao content varieties lower blood pressure and help alleviate symptoms in hypertension sufferers.

5) Skin Repair

We're not going to suggest that you slather your skin in hot chocolate because a) it won't replace your sunscreen and b) that'd just be weird. But regularly sipping a mug can help protect your skin from the ravages of UV rays, while also improving skin hydration, thickness and elasticity. Other skin-enhancing benefits of dark chocolate improve reducing oxidative stress, which can damage the collagen-containing skin layers.

More healthy treats.