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How Dark Chocolate Benefits Your Heart

Updated on June 17, 2016
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Slaine M. Logan hails from the state of North Carolina. She has long been an avid researcher, product reviewer, and health fanatic.

Many brands of dark chocolate bars are divided in squares so the consumer can easily determine a serving size.
Many brands of dark chocolate bars are divided in squares so the consumer can easily determine a serving size. | Source

Chocolate - Not Just Candy

For many decades after its inception, chocolate was dismissed as junk food, something that should either be avoided or eaten only occasionally for pleasure. However, after a plethora of research, chocolate has been found to be just as healthy as it is tasty, much to the delight of the palates of chocolate lovers all across the world.

The caveat to this is all chocolates are not created equal. Even though they have the same base ingredient - cacao - the levels of it vary widely in brands, as well as the additives that go into the final product. So, this doesn't mean you can grab that Snickers bar and think you've had a healthy dessert.

There are two basic categories of chocolates - dark and milk. Some mistakenly think there is a third category in white chocolate. However, that is not true chocolate, as it has no cacao content included.

Milk chocolate normally contains between 25 to 40 percent cacao in the product. It has a substantially higher sugar content, as well as added condensed milk or milk powder. Though you will still obtain a degree of benefit from the cacao, it will not outweigh the unhealthy additives at these levels.

Dark chocolate is what you should be looking for to get a health boost while pleasing your sense of taste. Ideally, you should aim for a bar with at least 70 percent cacao. Chocolates that are as high as 90 to 95 percent cacao are often an acquired taste, because people often find them initially to be overly bitter. It is easier to adjust your palate by choosing an exceptionally good brand.

In addition to the cacao, the cocoa butter that gives the final product its rich taste is made up of beneficial fatty acids. A little goes a long way in packing a nutritional punch. Consuming just 20 grams, less than an ounce, of Lindt 85 percent dark will give you 12 percent of your recommended daily fiber intake, as well as a good portion of trace essential minerals, with magnesium, iron, copper, and manganese in the highest quantities. It also has selenium, phosphorus, and zinc in lesser but still substantial levels.

The majority of people are deficient in at least one of these trace minerals, all of which are needed to keep the body functioning optimally. Here we will look at how it aids in promoting heart health.

Among the many health benefits of eating dark chocolate, one of them is cutting your risk of heart disease.
Among the many health benefits of eating dark chocolate, one of them is cutting your risk of heart disease. | Source

LDL Cholesterol

Cholesterol levels are often cited as a risk factor for heart disease. It is sometimes incorrectly thought that there is more than one type of cholesterol molecule. What makes it good or bad is the density of the lipoprotein that transports the molecule. There are high density lipoproteins (HDL) and low density lipoproteins (LDL).

LDL is what is commonly known as the bad form of cholesterol. In order for your LDL levels to be considered safe, they should be under 110 milligrams per deciliter of blood. Consuming a moderate amount of dark chocolate daily has been shown to reduce LDL levels, consequently reducing plaque buildup in the arteries. The flavonoid presence in chocolate is given a considerable share of the credit for this function, and also the unsaturated fats of cocoa butter.

If you have not started consuming dark chocolate daily, and have high cholesterol levels, it is never too soon to start. The effects of high cholesterol are cumulative over time. Plaque builds up over a period of decades, not months or years. Neglecting your arteries in your youth, thinking that you can just become more health conscious later is a mistake, especially when it comes to affairs of the heart.

Promoting Artery Flexibility

This factor is directly related to the reduction of blood pressure, being one of the causes to it. As the body ages, there is a natural tendency for arteries and veins to become stiffer. If they become too rigid, you have a condition known as arteriosclerosis, which puts you at a substantially high risk for a heart attack, along with other diseases. It restricts blood flow to organs and other tissues. This means that the heart will have to continuously work harder to get adequate blood flow, resulting in higher blood pressure.

Another benefit of the flavonols and other polyphenols in dark chocolate is that they counteract this tendency, by promoting the growth of new endothelium, which are the tissues that line your arteries and heart. More rapid cell regeneration means your arteries will be continuously lined with a greater percentage of newer tissue.

Weight Loss

Though it may sound counterintuitive, it is true that consuming dark chocolate in moderation can help promote the loss of excess fat. How is this possible for a food that is so rich in calories? The answer actually lies in one of the components that makes it such a calorie-rich food.

The monounsaturated fatty acids, or MUFAs, that are contained in the cocoa butter, are plant based fats that promote weight loss by two mechanisms of action. They raise your body's metabolic rate, causing it to burn energy faster. Also, they slow the rate of digestion, which acts as a natural appetite suppressor. Consuming dark chocolate will help make you feel fuller for a longer period of time, and you are less likely to snack too frequently, or overeat at your next meal.

These long and unjustly maligned fats have found to serve multiple beneficial purposes to the body. Just be careful not to eat so much that the sheer number of calories ends up negating the effects of these two mechanisms of action.

Blood Pressure

As people age, all other things being equal, their blood pressure tends to rise. Being overweight will definitely exacerbate the problem. A normal, healthy blood pressure should be below 120/80 mm/hg. A systolic level of 121-139 and a diastolic of 81-89 is considered a prehypertensive condition. Anything above that level is diagnosed as hypertension.

The high polyphenol content that exists in dark chocolate can help remedy that situation. Polyphenols have been long known to be beneficial to lowering blood pressure in studies of a wide range of foods. The mechanism of action is by relieving oxidative stress by neutralizing free radicals in the bloodstream.

Remember, not all chocolate is created equal. White chocolate is not even true chocolate.
Remember, not all chocolate is created equal. White chocolate is not even true chocolate. | Source

Two Caveats

While the vast majority of us have hearts that will benefit from a moderate amount of dark chocolate, there is a minority that has to be careful. Along with all these beneficial minerals, fiber, and fats, cacao does also contain a measurable amount of caffeine. If you have an arrhythmia such as an atrial fibrillation, or other type, you probably should not consume chocolate daily, as these conditions could be aggravated by caffeine intake.

The other caveat is moderation. A serving of Lindt 85 percent dark is listed as four squares, which is 40 grams, or approximately 1.5 ounces. That contains 230 calories. There are 2.5 servings in the entire bar, which adds up to 575 calories in just 3.75 ounces of chocolate. Eating the entire bar in one day is obviously not advisable. As stated earlier, nibbling on just two squares per day, along with a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and healthy meats can give you substantial benefits without an excess of calories.


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