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 kind) can improve health and lower the risk of heart disease…
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 fibre and is loaded with minerals. A 100g bar of dark chocolate with 70-85% cocoa contains:
- 11 grams of fibre
- 67% of the rda (recommended daily amount) of iron
- 58% of the rda of magnesium
- 89% of the rda of copper
- 98% of the rda of manganese
- It also has plenty of potassium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium
The fatty acid profile of cocoa and dark chocolate is excellent. The fats are mostly saturated and monounsaturated, with small amounts of polyunsaturates.
Dark chocolate is a powerful source of antioxidants
ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) is a measure of the antioxidant activity of foods. Basically, researchers pit free radicals (bad) against a sample of food and see how well the antioxidants in the food can ‘disarm’ them. 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.
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 the gas nitric oxide. One of the functions of nitric oxide 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. However, there is also one study in people with elevated blood pressure that showed no effect, so take all this with a pinch of salt.
Dark chocolate raises HDL and protects LDL against oxidation
Consuming dark chocolate can improve several important risk factors for heart disease. Cocoa powder was found to significantly decrease oxidized LDL (bad cholesterol) in men. It also increased HDL and lowered total LDL in men with elevated cholesterol. Oxidized LDL means that the LDL 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.
Dark chocolate can also reduce insulin resistance, which is another common risk factor for many diseases like heart disease and diabetes.
Dark chocolate may lower the risk of cardiovascular disease
The compounds in dark chocolate appear to be highly protective against the oxidation of LDL (bad cholesterol). 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.
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.
Another study revealed that eating chocolate two or more times per week lowered the risk of having calcified plaque in the arteries by 32%.
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.
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.
If you’re planning on a beach vacation, consider loading up on dark chocolate in the weeks and months leading up to it.
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 five days of consuming high-flavanol cocoa improved blood flow to the brain. Cocoa may also significantly improve cognitive function in elderly people with mental impairment. It also improves verbal fluency and several risk factors for disease.
Cocoa also contains stimulant substances like caffeine and theobromine, which may be a key reason cocoa can improve brain function in the short term.
Take home message
- There is considerable evidence that cocoa can provide powerful health benefits, being especially protective against cardiovascular disease. But of course, this doesn’t mean people should go all out and consume lots of chocolate every day. It is still loaded with calories and easy to overeat on. Maybe have a square or two after dinner and try to really savour them.
- Be aware that a lot of the chocolate on the market is poor. You need to choose quality stuff; organic, dark chocolate with 70% or higher cocoa content.
- Dark chocolates often contain some sugar, but the amounts are usually small and, the darker the chocolate, the less sugar it will contain.
There are of course other benefits to chocolate that I have not mentioned, such as the awesome taste!
By Kris Gunnars, BSc. For more information, visit www.authoritynutrition.com