Move over apples, because a bite or two of dark chocolate a day can also keep the doctor away. Dark chocolate has long been known for its host of health benefits. In fact, it won’t be an exaggeration to classify dark chocolate as a superfood. Read on to find out why dark chocolate should be a regular item on your grocery list.
Not All Chocolates are Created Equal
Before you stuff your face with your favorite chocolate bar, you should know that only dark chocolate delivers health benefits. Milk and white chocolate lovers will still have to eat these sweet treats in moderation. The bittersweet dark chocolate, however, can be enjoyed every day without any guilt.
This superfood chocolate owes its esteemed standing to the cacao plant, from which it is derived. Cacao is packed with plant compounds – phytonutrients, to be specific – which have antioxidant properties. Studies have discovered that cacao has more antioxidants than green tea or red wine.
When it comes to dark chocolate, the darker the product, the more nutritious it is. Experts recommend choosing dark chocolate with 70% cacao content or higher to be sure that you’ll be getting its antioxidant benefits. Chocolates with lower percentages of cacao contain added sugars and unhealthy fats.
But eating a lot of dark chocolate to increase your intake of antioxidants is not the way to go. While dark is healthier than milk or white chocolate, it is still high in calories and saturated fat. So you have to eat just the right amount to enjoy its benefits and without risking other health conditions, such as weight gain and diabetes.
Most experts recommend eating no more than one ounce of dark chocolate a day.
Benefits of Superfood Dark Chocolate
Heart Disease Prevention and Lowered Risk of Stroke
Dark chocolate has the potential to support heart health. One study found that eating dark chocolate may lower the risk of heart disease and stroke; consuming this treat five times a week can reduce heart disease risk by 57 percent.
This benefit may be due to the presence of flavonoids in dark chocolate. Flavonoids help produce nitric oxide which triggers the relaxation of blood vessels so that blood pressure is reduced. The actual cause-and-effect relationship between the flavonoids in dark chocolate and lowered risk of heart disease and stroke still needs to be established through more scientific studies.
Reduce Diabetes Risk
It may seem counterintuitive to eat chocolate to prevent diabetes, but such is the wonder of dark chocolate. Healthy amounts of dark chocolate have been found to improve the body’s glucose metabolism and, thereby, blood glucose levels.
Insulin resistance – a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes and which causes blood glucose levels to rise – is caused by oxidative stress, but the flavonoids in dark chocolate reduce oxidative stress so that the body’s sensitivity to insulin is improved and the risk of diabetes is lowered. In one comparative study, at least once-a-week consumption of dark chocolate reduced the risk of developing diabetes by about half compared with rare consumption.
May Help Maintain Healthy Cholesterol Levels
The high cocoa content of dark chocolate can cause a significant drop in LDL or bad cholesterol and an increase in HDL or good cholesterol. The cocoa butter present in dark chocolate contains oleic acid, which is a type of monounsaturated fat that is also found in heart-healthy olive oil. Experts remind consumers, however, that dark chocolate is also high in saturated fats and too much consumption can cause more harm than good.
May Prevent Cancer
There is a growing body of evidence that shows that the antioxidants in dark chocolate may help prevent cancer by protecting the cells against free radical damage. High levels of free radicals – unstable oxygen molecules associated with aging and certain diseases – are a common factor among individuals who develop cancer.
Too many free radicals can also lead to Alzheimer’s, so consuming dark chocolate may also offer protection against this debilitating disease, although further study is still needed.
Supports Gut Health and Promotes Weight Loss
Considering that dark chocolate is still chocolate and is high in calories and fats, it would seem anomalous to say that it can promote weight loss. But as is usually the case with most foods, eating the right quantity is key. One research suggests that eating a small amount of dark chocolate before or after a meal can help curb appetite; dark chocolate triggers chemicals that tell the brain that you’re full. Of course, you have to make sure that you don’t eat too much that you gain weight, instead.
Dark chocolate has also been shown to behave like a prebiotic – encouraging the growth of healthy gut bacteria and enhancing the digestive system’s nutrient absorption and supporting a healthy metabolism.
Dark chocolate has proven brain health benefits. Eating healthy amounts of this bittersweet treat stimulates neural activity in the pleasure centers of the brain, thereby boosting mood, memory, and cognition and reducing stress.
One study found that increased neuroplasticity in the brain, which is also associated with positive effects on mood, memory, and cognition, is a result of eating 48 grams of organic dark chocolate containing 70% cacao.
Flavonoids are, once again, responsible for the brain health benefits. These chemical compounds have been found to accumulate in brain areas that are responsible for learning and memory. The exact mechanism of how flavonoids enhance certain brain functions is still yet to be determined.
May Support Skin Health
The high levels of antioxidants in dark chocolate may offer the skin some protection against UV damage. Dark chocolate is also loaded with other nutrients, including manganese which is important in collagen production, as well as calcium which helps with the skin’s repair and renewal.
Dark Chocolate as a Superfood – Final Thoughts
In addition to antioxidants, dark chocolate is chock-full of nutrients. A 70% dark chocolate or higher serves up healthy doses of calcium, copper, fiber, magnesium, and potassium. Always remember that the darker the chocolate, the healthier it is, but it’s also high in calories and saturated fats so moderate consumption is still important.
As much as possible, choose organic chocolate to avoid the ingestion of harmful chemicals from fertilizers and pesticides. Always check the ingredients list; the product should contain mostly natural ingredients, and the fewer ingredients there are, the better.