Dark chocolate is loaded with nutrients that can positively affect your health.
Made from the seed of the cocoa tree, it is one of the best sources of antioxidants on the planet.
Studies show that dark chocolate can improve your health and lower the risk of heart disease.
1. Very Nutritious
If you buy a good quality dark chocolate with a high cocoa content, then it is actually quite nutritious.
It contains a decent amount of soluble fibre and is loaded with minerals.
A 100-gram bar of dark chocolate with 70–85% cocoa contains:
- 11 grams of fibre
- 67% of the RDI for iron
- 58% of the RDI for magnesium
- 89% of the RDI for copper
- 98% of the RDI for manganese
- It also has plenty of potassium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium
For this reason, dark chocolate is best consumed in moderation.
The fatty acid profile of cocoa and dark chocolate is also excellent. The fats are mostly saturated and monounsaturated, with small amounts of polyunsaturated fat.
It also contains stimulants like caffeine and theobromine but is unlikely to keep you awake at night as the amount of caffeine is very small compared to coffee
2. Rich in Antioxidants
Dark chocolate is loaded with organic compounds that are biologically active and function as antioxidants. These include polyphenols, flavanols and catechins, among others.
Antioxidants are important as they help protect cells from damage caused by free radicals, which can play a role in heart disease and cancer. The more antioxidants you consume the better!
The flavanols in dark chocolate can stimulate the endothelium, the lining of arteries, to produce nitric oxide (NO).
One of the functions of NO is to send signals to the arteries to relax, which lowers the resistance to blood flow and therefore reduces blood pressure.
Many controlled studies show that cocoa and dark chocolate can improve blood flow and lower blood pressure, though the effects are usually mild.
However, one study in people with high blood pressure showed no effect, so take all this with a grain of salt.
4. Raises HDL and Protects LDL From Oxidation
Consuming dark chocolate can improve several important risk factors for heart disease.
In a controlled study, cocoa powder was found to significantly decrease oxidized LDL cholesterol in me.
Oxidized LDL means that the LDL (“bad” cholesterol) has reacted with free radicals.
This makes the LDL particle itself reactive and capable of damaging other tissues, such as the lining of the arteries in your heart.
It makes perfect sense that cocoa lowers oxidized LDL. It contains an abundance of powerful antioxidants that do make it into the bloodstream and protect lipoproteins against oxidative damage.
Dark chocolate can also reduce insulin resistance, which is another common risk factor for many diseases like heart disease and diabetes.
5. May Reduce Heart Disease Risk
The compounds in dark chocolate appear to be highly protective against the oxidation of LDL.
In the long term, this should cause much less cholesterol to lodge in the arteries, resulting in a lower risk of heart disease
In fact, several long-term observational studies show fairly drastic improvement.
In a study of 470 elderly men, cocoa was found to reduce the risk of death from heart disease by a whopping 50% over a 15 year period.
Another study revealed that eating chocolate two or more times per week lowered the risk of having calcified plaque in the arteries by 32%. Eating chocolate less frequently had no effect.
Yet another study showed that eating dark chocolate more than 5 times per week lowered the risk of heart disease by 57%.
Of course, these three studies are observational studies, so can’t prove that it was the chocolate that reduced the risk.
However, since the biological process is known (lower blood pressure and oxidized LDL), it is plausible that regularly eating dark chocolate may reduce the risk of heart disease.
6. May Protect Your Skin From the Sun
The bioactive compounds in dark chocolate may also be great for your skin.
The flavonols can protect against sun damage, improve blood flow to the skin and increase skin density and hydration.
The minimal erythemal dose (MED) is the minimum amount of UVB rays required to cause redness in the skin 24 hours after exposure.
In one study of 30 people, the MED more than doubled after consuming dark chocolate high in flavanols for 12 weeks.
If you’re planning a beach vacation, consider loading up on dark chocolate in the prior weeks and months.
Just make sure you don’t ditch the suncream – you’ll still need plenty of that. Chocolate on its own isn’t enough to protect fully against the sun.
7. Could Improve Brain Function
Dark chocolate may also improve the function of your brain.
One study of healthy volunteers showed that eating high-flavanol cocoa for five days improved blood flow to the brain.
Cocoa may also significantly improve cognitive function in elderly people with mental impairment. It may improve verbal fluency and several risk factors for disease, as well.
Additionally, cocoa contains stimulant substances like caffeine and theobromine, which may be a key reason why it can improve brain function in the short term.
There is considerable evidence that cocoa can provide powerful health benefits, being especially protective against heart disease.
This doesn’t mean you should go all out and consume lots of chocolate every day. It is still loaded with calories and easy to overeat.
A square or two of dark chocolate can leave you feeling fuller for longer, and less likely to snack before your next meal. Consuming a small amount of dark chocolate will also help curb sweet tooth cravings – helpful for those trying to lose weight.
Also, be aware that a lot of chocolate on the market is not healthy. Choose quality stuff — dark chocolate with 70% or higher cocoa content.
Dark chocolates typically contain some sugar, but the amounts are usually small and the darker the chocolate, the less sugar it will contain.
When dark chocolate is consumed, the brain releases endorphins – chemicals in the brain that create feelings of pleasure. In fact, chocolate contains PEA, which is the same chemical that your brain creates when you feel like you’re falling in love. So perfect for a romantic picnic hamper for two!
So, in theory, it would be rude not to put a bar or simply a box of dark chocolates in a hamper!
Image: Charisse Kenion-Unsplash