When people hear that chocolate is good for you, it often raises a few eyebrows. Of course, we are not talking about the sickly, sweet milk chocolate bars that many people are so fond of. When we talk about healthy chocolate, we are referring to good quality dark chocolate with a high cocoa content of 70% or more.
People often turn to chocolate at times of stress and it certainly seems to work for many people as an emotional comfort food. But good quality chocolate has plenty of other health benefits that may come as a surprise.
Produced from the seeds of cocoa trees, dark chocolate is laden with healthy nutrients with numerous health benefits. It is actually one of the very best sources of natural antioxidants that we know of. Studies have demonstrated that good quality chocolate can improve heart health by reducing blood pressure and improving cholesterol levels.
Why you can Benefit from Eating Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate is much more nutritious than many people believe. It is full of minerals and is actually a good source of soluble fibers.
100 grams of high cocoa dark chocolate contains the following nutrients:
- Manganese (98% of RDA)
- Copper (89% of RDA)
- Iron (67% of RDA)
- Magnesium (58% 0f RDA)
- Fiber (11 grams)
- Other minerals: potassium, zinc, phosphorus and selenium.
Unfortunately, these nutrients are delivered with a high calorie load. 100 grams of dark chocolate weighs in at around 600 calories so eating a large bar each day may not be advisable especially if you are watching your weight.
Dark chocolate also contains a moderate amount of sugar and small amounts of caffeine. However, the fatty acids in dark chocolate have a good profile. The majority of its fats are saturated and monounsaturated fats.
Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate
1. Very Rich in Antioxidants
A significant reason that dark chocolate is so good for your health is its incredible antioxidant abilities. Dark chocolate and cocoa is jammed full of compounds with antioxidant properties. These include powerful acting flavanols, polyphenols and catechins.
One study published in 2011 compared the antioxidant value of numerous fruits and was able to demonstrate that dark chocolate had greater antioxidant value than all of them including well-known antioxidants like blueberries. (1)
The reason that this is so important is that we are bombarded with free radicals that can damage our cells leading in turn to various serious diseases. Antioxidants like those found in dark chocolate neutralize this cellular damage and help protect us from illness.
They also have anti-aging properties meaning they can help you feel better on the inside and look younger on the outside.
2. For Blood Pressure and Circulation
Dark chocolate may very well be helpful in reducing blood pressure and also improving circulation around the body. The flavonols found in dark chocolate help to stimulate the lining of the arteries into producing Nitric Oxide.
A major function of this gas is sending signals which relax the arteries. This in turn promotes better blood flow and brings blood pressure levels down.
A number of studies have demonstrated that dark chocolate can both reduce blood pressure and improve circulation but it should be noted that these effects tend to be mild. (2,3)
3. For Cholesterol
As well as helping to reduce blood pressure, there are other ways in which dark chocolate can benefit the heart and reduce your risk of coronary disease. Trials have demonstrated that cocoa powder had a significant impact on LDL cholesterol while simultaneously increasing HDL- the good type of cholesterol. (4)
Cocoa is able to reduce oxidized LDL cholesterol because of its high content of potent antioxidants which protect lipoproteins from the oxidative damage that leads to disease.
4. Reduce the Risk of Heart Diseases
There are plenty of reasons why eating cocoa and high qulaity dark chocolate can protect your heart from disease. As we have already mentioned, dark chocolate contains compounds which are effective against LDL oxidation. This in turn leads to less cholesterol building up in the arteries and should reduce the risk of heart disease over a long term.
Several long term studies suggest that dark chocolate can lead to significant improvements in heart health. In one large scale study published in 2006, the effects of cocoa was analyzed on 470 elderly male patients. The results indicated that over a 15 year period, consuming cocoa reduced the incidence of heart related death by as much as 50%. (5)
In another study, it was showed that eating dark chocolate at least twice a week reduced the risk of plaque building up in the arteries which is a condition called atherosclerosis. (6)
Yet another intriguing study demonstrated that eating chocolate at least 5 tomes a week reduced the risk of developing heart disease by an impressive 57%. (7)
It is possible to question the real value of these studies because they were simply observational studies. However, the fact that other studies have demonstrated that dark chocolate could reduce both LDL cholesterol and blood pressure lends them some genuine support.
5. For the Skin
For all you chocolate lovers out there, the good news does not end yet. Believe it or not, dark chocolate contains compounds that are good for your skin. The flavanols in the chocolate can protect your skin from sun damage, improve hydration and increase blood flow and skin density.
One study published in 2009 found that the minimum amount of time subjects could spend in the sun before it caused redness increased by more than double after eating dark chocolate for a period of 12 weeks. (8)
6. For the Brain
And there is more. According to preliminary studies, ark chocolate might also help improve your brain function. Some of the short term cognitive benefits of dark chocolate may be linked to the stimulating effects of caffeine or theobromine.
In one study of a group of healthy volunteers, the results indicated that eating dark chocolate high in flavonols helped improve the flow of blood to the brain.
The good news isn’t over yet. Dark chocolate may also improve the function of the brain. (9)
There is also evidence that cocoa might have a significant effect on cognitive function in elderly patients with cognitive impairment. It may also help reduce many of the risk factors associated with brain disease. (10)
7. For Mothers and their Babies
If you are a mother looking for an excuse to eat more then what better reason than you baby will appreciate it. The results of an interesting study conducted in Finland found that eating dark chocolate reduced stress in pregnant women and that their babies smiled more after birth than mothers who didn’t eat chocolate. (11)
8. Weight Control
And here is the news that all lovers of chocolate have been waiting for. Dark chocolate can help you to lose weight.
Don’t believe me? Well Will Clower – a neuro-scientist explains that a small piece of good quality chocolate melted onto your tongue 20 minutes prior to eating a meal can trigger a brain response which tells you that you are full.
This will help reduce the number of calories that you eat and with any luck help you lose a few pounds in the long term. (12)