Top 7 Proven Health Benefits Of Dark Chocolate
The Health Benefits Of Dark Chocolate
Did you know that chocolate can actually be good for you? No, I’m not talking about the milk chocolate that lines our supermarkets shelves. That is full of sugar and additives and won’t do you any good at all. But the cocoa in chocolate is extremely beneficial to health, so if you choose a darker chocolate with a high cocoa content there are a great many benefits you can experience from eating it regularly. So in what way is dark chocolate good for you?
Well, studies have found that there are a large number of health benefits of dark chocolate, the top 7 of which are as follows:
1. Dark Chocolate Is Very Nutritious
Good quality dark chocolate contains a wide range of valuable nutrients. It is quite high in soluble fiber, it contains healthy fats, a wide range of minerals and a small amount of certain B vitamins.
The fats in chocolate come from cocoa butter and include oleic acid, which is a healthy monounsaturated fat that is also found in olive oil, together with some healthy saturated fats, which are required for a variety of functions in the body.
The main minerals present in chocolate are iron, copper, potassium, magnesium and manganese, but there are many other minerals present in smaller amounts.
2. Dark Chocolate Is Packed With Antioxidants
Cocoa contains large amounts of two polyphenol flavanol compounds – catechin and epicatechin. These act as powerful antioxidants, which help to neutralize the free radicals that are constantly attacking and damaging our body cells, causing all manner of degenerative diseases and accelerating the ageing process.
The antioxidant activity of foods is measured using the ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) scale, and cocoa has an extremely high ORAC score, making it about the most effective antioxidant food you will find.
3. Dark Chocolate Can Lower Your Risk Of Cardiovascular Disease
The flavanols in cocoa have a number of effects that can help reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.
First, they help to prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol. And it's the oxidized LDL that does all the damage – sticking to the lining of your arteries and clogging them up.
Cocoa has also been shown to increase HDL (good) cholesterol, and it can reduce LDL levels in people who have raised cholesterol levels.
The flavanols also help to relax the arteries and make them more flexible. This improves blood flow and can help to reduce blood pressure.
On top of this, these compounds are also highly anti-inflammatory, and it's inflammation that is the trigger for all kinds of disease, including heart disease.
So, the combined effect of all this is a significant reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease. In fact it can amount to a reduction of over 50% if you eat a moderate amount of high flavanol dark chocolate five or more times per week.
4. Dark Chocolate Can Help Prevent Diabetes
Cocoa helps to decrease insulin resistance, which means it makes your cells more receptive to the effects of insulin. It also helps your body regulate blood sugar levels more effectively too. So this means that eating dark chocolate regularly can reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. And it may help you control your diabetes better if you already have it (alongside other dietary and lifestyle measures of course).
5. Dark Chocolate Can Improve Brain Function
Cocoa helps improve blood flow to the brain too. And studies have shown that drinking cocoa can improve alertness and performance for up to 3 hours.
Regular consumption of cocoa or dark chocolate can also slow cognitive decline due to ageing, and improve memory, concentration and other cognitive processes in elderly people with mental impairment.
Cocoa also contains a small amount of caffeine, as well as a mild stimulant called theobromine, which helps improve alertness still further.
6. Dark Chocolate Can Improve Your Mood and Help You Relax
Cocoa helps you cope with stress better by reducing cortisol (stress hormone) output, as well as by reducing the bad effects of stress on the body. It also increases serotonin output in the brain, which makes you feel good, and can help to combat mild depression. And it contains a substance called phenylethylamine (PEA) too, which affects brain chemistry in a similar manner to falling in love.
So dark chocolate really does make you feel good, helps you relax, and helps you cope with stress better.
Nutritionist, Jonny Bowden, talks about the health benefits of dark chocolate
What's your favorite type of chocolate?
7. Dark Chocolate Can Help Protect Your Skin
Cocoa also helps improve blood flow to the skin, so this should help to keep your skin healthy and younger looking too.
And dark chocolate can help protect your skin from the damaging effects of the sun as well. In fact, tests have shown that those who eat high flavanol chocolate on a regular basis take more than twice as long to go red when exposed to UV radiation.
Apart from all this, dark chocolate can even help you with your efforts to lose weight. The reason for this is that dark chocolate is much more filling and satisfying than milk chocolate, and it also helps reduce cravings for sweet and unhealthy foods. So not only will you find it easy to stick to eating the moderate amount recommended, you'll also find it easier to stick to a healthier eating plan in general.
So as you can see, there are many health benefits to be derived from eating dark chocolate on a regular basis. But not all dark chocolate is the same of course. The flavanol content of chocolate can vary widely due to the processing methods used and the amount of cocoa in the chocolate. So do make sure you choose a high quality, preferably organic, brand that contains at least 70% cocoa solids.
Also, bear in mind that, despite its health benefits, dark chocolate is high in calories (a 100g bar contains about 600 calories) so should not be eaten in excess. But 30 - 40g (1 - 1½ oz) per day is fine, and if you have chosen a good brand this should be enough to give you all the benefits listed here, and more besides. Enjoy!
Benefits in cognitive function, blood pressure, and insulin resistance through cocoa flavanol consumption in elderly subjects with mild cognitive impairment: the Cocoa, Cognition, and Aging (CoCoA) study