Everybody loves dark chocolate. If you don’t, you’re lying! Typically, when a food tastes as good as dark chocolate does, it’s also very bad for you. That’s an unfortunate truth about the food we eat.
While dark chocolate might not be the healthiest snack that you can eat, there are more dark chocolate health benefits than you may realize. Read on, and you might just feel less guilt the next time you indulge in some dark chocolate. And that’s okay.
What is Dark Chocolate?
Dark chocolate is chocolate primarily made with cocoa, cocoa butter, and little sugar, which is why it is bittersweet. It does not contain milk solids of any kind. Different brands will have varying levels of sugar, cocoa, and cocoa butter.
Chocolate is made from cocoa, a plant that grows a pod that houses cocoa beans. These beans are brown in color, and although they are covered with white, creamy, delicious coatings, they are bitter by themselves. Dark cocoa only sweetens after sugar is added.
Why is Dark Chocolate Healthy?
Now, apart from being a little sweet, dark chocolate also has great health benefits. Its basic ingredients are cocoa beans, cocoa butter, and sugar. All are rich in flavanols. Flavanols are antioxidants that help to prevent damage to your cells and organs; they help to guard your body against health conditions like heart diseases.
Dark chocolate is good because it has high cocoa compared to milk chocolate. Beware, one problem with dark chocolate is that some of them have only 30% of cocoa solids. The benefits diminish the lower the pure cocoa amount. A good quality dark chocolate should contain at least 70% cocoa, with extra dark varieties containing over 80% of it.
According to a 2003 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, dark chocolate helps to lower blood pressure.
Now, apart from lowering blood pressure, studies have shown that flavanols present in dark chocolate keep cholesterol from accumulating in the blood vessels and, therefore, improve blood flow. Apart from flavanols, dark cocoa also contains stimulants such as theobromine and caffeine in little quantities.
Dark chocolate and pure cocoa don’t raise LDL cholesterol or contribute to cardiovascular disease, but regular consumption of chocolate can result in increased caloric intake, leading to weight gain. So, this is something to keep in mind. The ingredients aren’t inherently unhealthy for you, but gaining weight could be!
Dark Chocolate Nutritional Content
Dark chocolate contains an excellent amount of certain fatty acids that are mostly saturated and monounsaturated, with little polyunsaturated fats.
The monounsaturated fat in dark chocolate is oleic acid, the same type present in olive oil.
Then we have palmitic acid. This acid is a saturated fat that does not raise LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol.
Lastly, we have stearic acid, a saturated fat that also doesn’t impact cholesterol levels.
Apart from the fatty acids, dark chocolate contains healthy minerals. A dark chocolate bar of about 100 grams will have:
- 11 grams of fiber (look at that fiber content!)
- 66% – 67% of the RDA for Iron
- 56% – 58% RDA for Magnesium
- 87% – 89% RDA for Copper
- 98% RDA for Manganese
Dark Chocolate Health Benefits
Have we sold you yet on dark chocolate? Not yet? Keep reading. Let’s get right into more surprising dark chocolate health benefits.
High in Antioxidants
Studies show that dark chocolate is a very good source of antioxidants. Antioxidants are masters at attacking free radicals in your body, helping to reduce heart disease and other illnesses.
Antioxidants help protect the cells inside and outside the body, which in turn helps prevent cancer growth by causing certain proteins (proteins that cause cancer cells to continuously divide and spread) to deactivate and stop their activities. The result is that the tumor cells will stop creating more cell damage. Studies have shown that this is true especially for colon cancer. Polyphenols, an antioxidant present in cocoa, aids in reducing the risk of colorectal cancer.
Pure cocoa and dark chocolate are loaded with compounds that are active biologically and serve as or function as antioxidants. Some of these compounds are polyphenols, flavanols, and catechins.
The reason that experts advise against milk chocolate or white chocolate is because researchers discovered that when there is milk in chocolate, it disturbs the absorption of antioxidants from chocolate, thereby taking away its health benefits.
Lowers Blood Pressure
Dark chocolate and pure cocoa help to improve blood flow, thus reducing blood pressure. Flavanols contained in the dark chocolate release Nitric Oxide (NO), which signals arteries to relax. When the arteries relax, blood flows more easily, reducing blood pressure throughout the entire body.
There have been a lot of trials to prove this even though the effects are mild. The bottom line is that the active compounds in dark chocolate and cocoa help improve blood flow and therefore cause a significant decrease in blood pressure.
Antioxidants and flavanols that are present in cocoa or dark chocolate also help to improve vein flexibility in the arteries, providing an additional reduction in blood pressure.
Remember: If you eat a lot of dark chocolate for the sole purpose of lowering high blood pressure, it is important to balance the excess calories by avoiding or eating less of other high-calorie foods.
Lowers Risk of Cardiovascular Diseases and Keeps the Heart Healthy
Since the compounds in cocoa or dark chocolate are protect against the oxidation of LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein), this means that in the long run, it will cause less cholesterol buildup in the arteries and as a result, lower the risk of heart diseases.
Cocoa widens blood vessels, increasing blood flow to every part of the body, including the heart and organs. The increase in blood flow helps to prevent blood clots from forming within the blood vessels and arteries. For those with poor blood circulation, this is important.
To prove most of these points, an observational study was carried out in about 470 elderly men. This study found that cocoa reduced the risk of cardiovascular death by 50%.
Another study showed that taking pure cocoa or dark chocolate at least 2 to 4 times per week will help lower risks of calcified plaque in the arteries.
Note that these studies are just observations and cannot scientifically prove that chocolate helps to reduce the risk of heart diseases. But since they help with lower blood pressure and oxidization, it is safe to assume that a moderate consumption of dark chocolate or pure cocoa will can reduce the risk of heart disease.
Acts As a Beauty Enhancer
While this might fall slightly outside the lines of dark chocolate health benefits, it is still a benefit worth mentioning. As long as the dark chocolate you are eating has at least 70% cocoa solids in it, it serves as a beauty enhancing product. How so?
Flavanols and other antioxidants which are found in cocoa and dark chocolate fight free radicals and also help to protect the skin from sun-induced damage by protecting it against UV rays which can lead to sunburn and skin cancer.
Dark chocolate also helps in improving blood flow to the skin, which in turn improves the density of the skin, skin hydration, and complexion.
Cocoa in dark chocolate is also known to help lower the stress hormones, which in turn help to decrease wrinkles. It helps the skin maintain elasticity.
The anti-inflammatory properties in dark chocolate help to lower the risk of scalp infection.
Dark chocolate also helps to increase oxygen and blood flow to the scalp, which in turn leads to strong, healthy hair and reduces hair splitting and breaking.
Aids in Weight Loss
Excessive chocolate consumption can lead to weight gain, even if it’s dark chocolate. But let’s focus on dark, bittersweet chocolate, not the milky stuff, and the psychological impact it has on your cravings. Eating bitter, dark chocolate will reduce your cravings for fatty foods as well as salty and sweet foods. When these cravings go away, your calories consumed will go down with little or no extra effort on your part.
Let’s also remind you of the impressive amount of fiber found in dark chocolate (11 grams of fiber per 100 grams of dark chocolate!). Fiber-rich foods keep you full much longer, delaying hunger.
Dark chocolate, unlike milk chocolate, contains lots of monounsaturated fats, which is nature’s natural aid for losing belly fat. It makes your metabolism burn up more fat and calories.
The magnesium in dark chocolate helps to promote restful sleep. This is a good thing and aids in weight loss because studies show that sleep-deprived people retain more fat in their abdomen due to high levels of cortisol (common cause of abdominal fat). Also, chronic sleep deprivation disturbs metabolism and hormone levels, which in turn make losing weight very difficult.
Improves Brain Function
A study in which healthy volunteers were used revealed that consumption of dark chocolate with high flavanol compounds improved blood flow to the brain.
For elderly people with mental impairment, cocoa also improves cognitive function, verbal fluency, and several other risk factors for diseases.
Studies have shown that cocoa in dark chocolate contains a chemical compound called phenylethylamine (PEA). This chemical stimulates the brain to release endorphins, improving your mood. A happy person has less to worry about, so less to disturb the brain.
Stimulant substances such as caffeine and theobromine which are contained in cocoa are mild compared to the ones in coffee. So when taken moderately, it improves brain activity and functions.
Serotonine levels are usually low in people with depression as well as those experiencing PMS symptoms. However, the consumption of cocoa or dark chocolate can increase the level of serotonin in the brain.
Lowers the Risk of Diabetes
The sugar levels in dark chocolate help to prevent diabetes and obesity. Flavanoids help with Nitric Oxide, regulating your arteries and keeping insulin sensitivity at bay.
By keeping your blood vessels healthy and improving blood circulation, dark chocolate protects you from type 2 diabetes. Its low glycemic index does not cause an increase in blood sugar levels like what you see from the much sweeter milk chocolates.
How to Use Your New Dark Chocolate Knowledge
About one or two squares is considered one serving. You can have one to two servings three times a week with no ill effects.
A lot has been said here, and if we were to summarize it in three simple points, it would be:
- Dark chocolate health benefits are scientifically proven
- Buy only dark chocolate that contains at least 70% cocoa solids
- Moderate consumption, do not overeat
After all is said and done, don’t go off and feast on dark chocolates. Small snacks are fine. In doing so, you’ll enjoy these dark chocolate health benefits without weight gain.