Is Dark Chocolate Actually Good for You?
Most people look at dessert with both delight and guilt. It tastes so good but is not so good for our bodies. Years ago, when research stated that dark chocolate is actually a healthy treat, people were in shock. How could something that tastes so good be good for the body too? Well, it is time to start believing it because dark chocolate has made it onto the list of known superfoods. It is still a dessert and we should consume it in moderation, but there are also several health benefits involved. In order to gain these benefits, you should have this kind of chocolate regularly (two or more times a week).
Nutritious and Full of Antioxidants
Plant-based foods, which includes cocoa, contain high levels of nutrients. Now, this does not count other kinds of chocolate, like white and milk chocolate. The higher the cocoa percentage, the more nutrients the chocolate contains. In order to receive the most nutrients possible, you will need a chocolate bar with a cocoa percentage of 70 percent or higher. (Keep in mind that the higher the percentage, the less sweet and more bitter the chocolate becomes.) A 100-gram bar of dark chocolate contains the following:
- 11 grams of fiber
- 58 percent of the reference daily intake (RDI) for magnesium
- 67 percent of the RDI for iron
- 89 percent of the RDI for copper
- 98 percent of the RDI for manganese
It also contains a good amount of potassium, phosphorus, selenium, and zinc. When it comes to fatty acids, most of the ones in this kind of chocolate is saturated and monounsaturated, with only small amounts of polyunsaturated fat.
While all of the above-listed items are healthy, there is still more. Dark chocolate is a rich source of antioxidants, which help protect your body from free radicals. Researchers believe free radicals (unstable oxygen molecules) are responsible for aging and certain kinds of diseases. Unprocessed cocoa beans are one of the highest scoring foods when it comes to disabling free radicals. Some of the antioxidants in this chocolate include catechins, flavanols, and polyphenols, but the most prevalent one is flavanols.
Improve Blood Flow and Blood Pressure
When studying dark chocolate, many researchers have looked at what it can do for the heart and cardiovascular system. For one, the flavanols in cocoa beans can stimulate the lining of the arteries so that they produce nitric oxide. The nitric oxide then causes the arteries to relax, which lowers blood flow resistance. This not only increases blood flow but also reduces blood pressure. However, this generally only makes enough of a difference for people with mild high blood pressure. People that struggle with more severe high blood pressure will have to do more than just each chocolate every other day.
Lower Risk of Heart Disease and Stroke
Because dark chocolate can lower blood pressure, it also decreases your risk of other health problems like heart disease and stroke. Cocoa lowers the amount of oxidized LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and even helps those with high cholesterol. Doing this helps protect the lining of the arteries in your heart from further damage because cholesterol is less likely to get stuck in the arteries and cause a blockage. Preventing those blockages lowers your risk of heart attacks and strokes.
One study showed that cocoa reduced the risk of death by a heart attack by 50 percent over a 15-year period. Another study states that eating dark chocolate more than five times a week lowered the participants’ risk for heart disease by 57 percent. It is important to note that these studies were observational, so we cannot prove that it was purely the chocolate that reduced their risks. However, consuming this kind of chocolate and keeping a healthy lifestyle will only reduce these risks further.
Improve Brain Function
There are a couple of ways that dark chocolate can improve brain function. One of them is a reason we have already discussed. Cocoa can relax the arteries and increase blood flow, and that includes increased blood flow in the brain. This allows you to focus more and even recall information better. One study showed that one hour after consuming dark chocolate, participants were able to remember information better. Because it can positively affect cognitive function, it may also be able to improve verbal fluency.
Another way that this chocolate improves brain function involves a couple of stimulants it contains. These stimulants are caffeine and theobromine, which can only help brain function in the short term. You also should not expect this to keep you awake because the amount of caffeine in chocolate is much lower than the amount in a cup of coffee. These stimulants may also be part of the reason why studies show that dark chocolate can boost your mood!
Lower Risk of Sun Damage
We are going to discuss the flavanols in cocoa again because they offer so many great benefits. Another benefit that comes from the improved blood flow is that it can also improve skin density and hydration. This raises the skin’s tolerance of UVB rays and increases the time you can spend in it before experiences irritation and sunburn. In fact, one study shows that after consuming dark chocolate high in flavanols for 12 weeks, their tolerance of UVB rays more than doubled. You should not solely rely on chocolate though. Good health comes from a variety of good practices and not just one.
A Caution to Eating Dark Chocolate
As you have probably already guessed, dark chocolate is not a cure for all of your problems. We should not abandon other healthy habits because we think that chocolate will fix it. Instead, we should keep our healthy habits and use this chocolate to only make us better. Living a healthy lifestyle already reduces the risk of disease and improves body functions, and dark chocolate can help a bit more. It is also important to remember that even though this chocolate is rich in nutrients, it also contains sugar and calories. Excessive consumption is not healthy and may even contribute to health problems. You can eat this kind of chocolate regularly but only consume a square or two. You should then reduce your sugar and caloric intake to balance it out.
With all of the information we have discussed and all the research available, it is obvious that dark chocolate has amazing health benefits. It can improve your heart health, cognitive function, and even give you a mood boost. You can enjoy this healthy treat on occasion and not feel guilty about it. Just remember to eat in in moderation because all good things can also become bad.
Related Article: Best Organic Chocolate: A Healthy and Enjoyable Treat