When we think of chocolate, we definitely don’t think of it as a healthy type of food. But what if it can be? Dark chocolate is a product mostly made from cocoa solids, which are extracted from the cacao bean. But unlike milk chocolate and white chocolate, it is rich in minerals and antioxidants.
Dark chocolate has multiple health benefits, the most well-known being that it reduces the risk of heart disease. Additionally, it is also a great night-time snack that promotes better sleep. If you’re feeling restless, a square or two of dark chocolate can soothe your nerves and give you a good night’s rest.
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Dark chocolate has many health benefits like lowering blood pressure, reducing the risk of stroke and heart disease, and even providing protection against cavities and gum disease. Here are all the benefits you can reap from dark chocolate:
Since dark chocolate has higher cocoa content, it includes compounds like flavanols and polyphenols, which act as strong antioxidants. Antioxidants are substances that may protect against cell damage from free radicals, which are usually the by-products of metabolism. They can help protect the body from diseases such as cancer and inflammation. Antioxidants have been studied for their potential to reduce or prevent oxidative stress in the body.
With aging, oxidative stress increases and it can lead to various diseases like heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and diabetes. With dark chocolate being a strong source of antioxidants, it can help prevent these health issues. The darker the chocolate, the more antioxidants there are.
Eating dark chocolate can reduce the risk of heart diseases such as getting heart attacks or strokes. Flavanol is a compound naturally found in plant foods and dark chocolate. It is the main component that fights against the risks of heart disease and here’s how it works:
Raises Good Cholesterol, Reduces Bad Cholesterol
Dark chocolate has a significant impact on low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. The Journal of American Heart Association ran a study that concluded dark chocolate, almonds, and cocoa powder efficiently lowers bad cholesterol, especially when combined.
It also increases high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the good cholesterol. Since dark chocolate is a powerful source of antioxidants, it suppresses the oxidization of LDL and prevents it from damaging other tissues - regulating your cholesterol will minimize the forming of clots and decrease the risk of heart strokes.
Improves Blood Flow
The flavanols along with theobromine, a compound found in the cacao plant, naturally lower blood pressure and improve blood flow. As a result, this reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.
The flavanols stimulate the production of nitric oxide (NO) in the body, which widens the arteries allowing for smoother blood flow. Many studies were done to define the effect of cocoa powder on blood pressure and cardiovascular health in general.
A recent study conducted in Germany on 44 adults aged 56 to 73 years old, found that small amounts of rich dark chocolate efficiently reduced blood pressure and improved the formation of vasodilative nitric oxide. This was specifically useful for older people who suffer from high blood pressure or are at risk of heart disease.
Besides antioxidants, dark chocolate is rich in minerals and fibers as well. A 100-gram high-quality dark chocolate bar with 70 to 85% of cocoa solids will contain:
Even though dark chocolate is richer in nutrients than milk chocolate, it still has a lot of calories, fats, and a high level of sugar. A 100-gram bar will contain an average of 600 calories, so it is important to portion your dark chocolate consumption.
Another common cause of heart disease is diabetes. Insulin resistance can lead to high blood glucose and type 2 diabetes. It is a condition where the body’s tissues don't respond to insulin, which is a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. Recent studies have shown that dark chocolate reduces insulin resistance, which is caused by oxidative stress.
While another study conducted on over 900 participants showed that those who never or rarely ate chocolate have significantly higher odds of developing type 2 diabetes five years later, compared to those who have chocolate more than once a week.
Chocolate can improve your mood, help with memory loss, and overall improve the brain’s function. An essential component in chocolate is tyrosine. It produces dopamine and activates the reward center in your brain - putting you in a happier mood.
Alternatively, a study on dark chocolate with 70% of cacao, showed a high impact on neuroplasticity in the brain. This means it can reduce stress, inflammation, and positively influence memory and immunity. Cocoa flavanol can also benefit the elderly with cognitive impairment and promote short-term concentration and better verbal communication. Experts suggest that eating dark chocolate will help those with conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
Dark chocolate is a rich source of antioxidants and may help your skin stay healthy and youthful. The flavanols can protect your skin against UV rays from the sun, according to several previous studies. However, other minerals like magnesium, potassium, and zinc, will promote collagen, skin hydration, and help your skin stay youthful.
You may think that eating chocolate is a weird way to lose weight - in fact, you probably think it’ll make you gain weight. But a square or two of dark chocolate can actually help control your appetite. Experts recommend having a small piece of chocolate after a meal or on an empty stomach. It’ll send a signal to the brain, making it believe that you’re full.
Cocoa beans in dark chocolate contain a large amount of fiber and magnesium, which can make you feel full - meaning you're likely to eat less food overall. During digestion, chocolate acts like a prebiotic, a type of fiber that efficiently takes in nutrition and promotes healthy metabolism.
You can also eat dark chocolate between meals, like lunch and dinner, to lessen your meal portions. Even though dark chocolate is healthier than milk chocolate - it still has high amounts of sugar, calories, and saturated fats. As a result, it’ll be counteractive to losing weight if you eat too much of it. It is recommended to have from 1 to 2 ounces of dark chocolate per day to reap its maximum benefits.
Dark chocolate is regarded as a natural sleep aid. It contains an amino acid called tryptophan which helps our brains release serotonin - a hormone that increases feelings of well-being and relaxation! Serotonin also helps produce melatonin, the sleep hormone that regulates your sleep cycle and induces deep sleep.
Flavanols and tryptophan can make you fall asleep faster and stay asleep for longer. One study found that just one ounce of dark chocolate increased the amount of time people slept by three minutes while another study found that people who had a daily dose of dark chocolate slept better than those who ate milk chocolate or white chocolate.
White chocolate is considered the worst type of chocolate to eat before sleeping. It has a high level of sugar and calories, and it doesn't contain any nutrients. White chocolate isn’t made from cocoa solids and contains cocoa butter, which is full of saturated fats. For this reason, it’s best to avoid white chocolate before bedtime.
Processing dark chocolate and infusing it with flavors, sugar, and other artificial ingredients will ruin its benefits and decrease the amount of flavanol in it. The ideal cocoa percentage in dark chocolate is 70% or higher. A high percentage ensures more antioxidants and nutrients in the bar. Unfortunately, not all dark chocolate brands maintain a high total of cocoa solids.
It is best to consume dark chocolate that is unsweetened or has a low level of sugar. But most importantly, if the label says it contains trans fats - avoid it completely. Trans fats will offset the benefits of dark chocolate and can lead to health issues like high blood pressure and heart disease.
The recommended amount of dark chocolate per day is 1 to 2 ounces. If you’re trying to lose weight, then stick to only 1 ounce per day. It is suggested to avoid eating more than the recommended amount to avoid a higher intake of calories and sugar.
The best type of dark chocolate is made of pure cocoa powder, which includes at least 70% of cocoa content. When reading the chocolate bar label, the fewer ingredients - the better. Consider trying to avoid dark chocolate with a high level of sugar and make sure it doesn’t contain saturated fats.
Experts recommend a square or two of dark chocolate to promote relaxation and melatonin, the sleep hormone, before bedtime. A piece of dark chocolate is a great late-night snack that’ll help you sleep better. However, you can eat dark chocolate anytime during the day. It is recommended to eat it after meals or between meals if you’re trying to lose weight.