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7 Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate

7 Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate

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 (not the sugary crap) can improve health and lower the risk of heart disease.

1. Dark Chocolate is Very Nutritious

If you buy quality dark chocolate with a high cocoa content, then it is actually quite nutritious. It contains a decent amount of soluble fiber and is loaded with minerals. A 100 gram bar of dark chocolate with 70-85% cocoa contains (1):

  • 11 grams of fiber.
  • 67 percent of the RDA for Iron.
  • 58 percent of the RDA for Magnesium.
  • 89 percent of the RDA for Copper.
  • 98 percent of the RDA for Manganese.
  • It also has plenty of potassium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium.

Of course, 100 grams (3.5 ounces) is a fairly large amount and not something you should be consuming daily. All these nutrients also come with 600 calories and moderate amounts of sugarFor this reason, dark chocolate is best consumed in moderation. The fatty acid profile of cocoa and dark chocolate is excellent. The fats are mostly saturated and monounsaturated, with small amounts of polyunsaturates. 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. Dark Chocolate is a Powerful Source of Antioxidants

Have you ever heard of a measure called ORAC? ORAC stands for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity. It is a measure of the antioxidant activity of foods. Basically, researchers pit a bunch of free radicals (bad) against a sample of food and see how well the antioxidants in the food can “disarm” them. The biological relevance of this metric is questioned, because it’s done in a test tube and may not have the same effect in the body. However, I think it is worth mentioning that raw, unprocessed cocoa beans are among the highest scoring foods that have been tested.

Dark chocolate is loaded with organic compounds that are biologically active and function as antioxidants. These include polyphenols, flavanols, catechins, among others. One study showed that cocoa and dark chocolate contained more antioxidant activity, polyphenols and flavanols than other fruits they tested, which included blueberries and Acai berries (2).


3. Dark Chocolate May Improve Blood Flow and Lower Blood Pressure

The flavanols in dark chocolate can stimulate the endothelium, the lining of arteries, to produce Nitric Oxide (NO), which is a gas (3). One of the functions of NO is to send signals to the arteries to relax, which lowers resistance to blood flow and therefore reduces blood pressure. There are many controlled trials showing that cocoa and dark chocolate can improve blood flow and lower blood pressure, but the effects are usually mild (4, 5, 6, 7).

 

4. Dark Chocolate Raises HDL and Protects LDL Against Oxidation

Consuming dark chocolate can improve several important risk factors for heart disease. In a controlled trial, cocoa powder was found to significantly decrease oxidized LDL cholesterol in men.

It also increased HDL and lowered total LDL in men with elevated cholesterol (9). 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 (10111213). Dark chocolate can also reduce insulin resistance, which is another common risk factor for many diseases like heart disease and diabetes (14, 15).

 

5. Dark Chocolate May Lower The Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

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 and we should see a lower risk of heart disease over the long term.

It turns out that we have several long-term observational studies that show a fairly drastic improvement.

In a study of 470 elderly men, cocoa was found to reduce the risk of cardiovascular death by a whopping 50% over a 15 year period (16). Another study revealed that eating chocolate 2 or more times per week lowered the risk of having calcified plaque in the arteries by 32%. Eating chocolate less frequently had no effect (17). Yet another study showed that chocolate 5+ times per week lowered the risk of cardiovascular disease by 57% (18).

Of course, these 3 studies are so-called observational studies that can not prove that it was the chocolate that caused the reduction in risk. However, given that we have a biological mechanism (lower blood pressure and oxidized LDL) then I find it plausible that regular consumption of dark chocolate can in fact reduce the risk of heart disease.

 

6. Dark Chocolate May Protect Your Skin Against The Sun

The bioactive compounds in dark chocolate may also be great for your skin. The flavonols can protect against sun-induced damage, improve blood flow to the skin and increase skin density and hydration (19). 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 (20). If you’re planning on a beach vacation, consider loading up on dark chocolate in the prior weeks and months.

 

7. Dark Chocolate May Improve Brain Function

The good news isn’t over yet. Dark chocolate may also improve the function of the brain. One study of healthy volunteers showed that 5 days of consuming high-flavanol cocoa improved blood flow to the brain (21). Cocoa may also significantly improve cognitive function in elderly people with mental impairment. It also improves verbal fluency and several risk factors for disease (22). Cocoa also contains stimulant substances like caffeine and theobromine, which may be a key reason cocoa can improve brain function in the short term (23).

Article by Kris Gunnars

 

Related

Is Chocolate the New Weight-Loss Remedy?

Choosing Sustainable Chocolate

 

Read more: Desserts, Diet & Nutrition, Eating for Health, Food, General Health, Health

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Authority Nutrition

Kris Gunnars represents AuthorityNutrition.com – a site that helps people make informed decisions about their health based on the best scientific evidence available.

144 comments

+ add your own
1:36PM PDT on Mar 11, 2014

Sohat over weight guy eats an apple a day and dark chocolate every day he is REALLY GOOD! LOL

10:12AM PDT on Mar 10, 2014

That's the perfect excuse to go buy some chocolate lol! It's funny how people say that fruit veg etc are the best things for you health dose....they don't taste half as good as dark chocolate does! Interesting article and worthy of a read! :-)

9:44PM PST on Mar 8, 2014

I am always happy to hear anything good regarding Chocolate. You could repeat this article monthly and I will be happy to re-read it again and again.

3:48PM PST on Mar 6, 2014

I do not eat much chocolate but when I do it is always dark chocolate - so what with the apples as well I am doing well lol - thank you

10:07PM PST on Mar 5, 2014

One of my college professors gave us a great tip which i followed all through college for every test I took: an hour or so before the test, have some good dark chocolate and some water, and you will be preparing your brain for the hard work of the exam. I am certain it worked for me lol! Bless him for his insightful chocolate suggestion!

3:39AM PST on Mar 5, 2014

ty

12:20AM PST on Mar 5, 2014

Interesting, Thanks for sharing

12:05AM PST on Mar 5, 2014

excellent, tks for sharing

8:42PM PST on Mar 4, 2014

I love dark chocolate for a treat, in moderation, especially with various types of nuts on the side.

Yes, Janice T. Many people are having a problem accessing more than ten comments for various articles in both Causes and Healthy Living. I am able to see some comment boards in full and others just keep on spinning with the ominous message of "Loading," with a green semi-circle which endlessly spins around like hamsters in heat on a exercise wheel.

Anteater A said: "Chocolate with ants." I imagine for you, that is restricted to dining on ants and termites for the most part. I doubt if anteaters can digest chocolate as it is toxic for other mammals such as cats and dogs. For humans, some experimental sorts still do eat chocolate covered ants for a snack and then, there are some people who eat chocolate while simply observing ants. Later in the wee small hours, In 'ant'-icipation, I look forward to eating some chocolate. No ants are walking around outside, it is freezing out there so I won't be eating chocolate while observing the ants.

2:13PM PST on Mar 4, 2014

Cannot access 134 comments. Is anyone else having this problem.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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