If you were looking for a reason to pamper yourself with that piece of dark chocolate, look no further. Not only is dark chocolate a decadent treat, but it is also full of health benefits. Chocolate often gets a bad rap due to its sugar content, but when you choose dark chocolate high in cocoa and low in sugar, you can reap the benefits without the negative side effects.
What makes chocolate such a good-for-you indulgence? Keep reading to learn the health facts about chocolate.
What Health Benefits Does Chocolate Have?
Dark chocolate health benefits have been widely researched and reported. The higher the cocoa content, the more health benefits dark chocolate has. When choosing a dark chocolate bar, look for dark chocolate with 70 percent cocoa or higher. Dark chocolate often contains less fat and sugar than its milk chocolate counterparts, but it’s important to check the label to find out the nutrition facts.
Dark chocolate is rich with flavonoids, a type of antioxidant that offers a variety of health benefits. Flavonols, a class of flavonoid found in many fruits and vegetables, are found two to three times more often in the cocoa solids used to produce dark chocolate than in milk chocolate.
Some of the chocolate health benefits include the following:
- Functions as an antibiotic
- Acts as an antiplatelet (similar to the way a low-dose aspirin does)
- Increases HDL “good” cholesterol
- Decreases LDL “bad” cholesterol
- Prevents cognitive decline
- Reduces the risk of cardiovascular problems
Chocolate Gives Energy
Eating chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa like that found in dark chocolate can improve the capillary growth in muscles and increase your energy level.
The caffeine and theobromine, a natural stimulant similar to caffeine, are both found in chocolate and will give you an energy boost. The sugars in chocolate can also give you a short burst of energy when your body turns them into glucose.
Chocolate Improves Blood Flow
The antioxidants and polyphenols in dark chocolate have been shown to improve artery function and blood flow. In a small study published by the Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers studied 20 patients with peripheral artery disease (PAD). People who suffer from PAD have reduced blood flow to their limbs, making it difficult to exercise or sometimes even to walk.
Half of the study participants ate dark chocolate with at least 85 percent cocoa, and the other half ate milk chocolate with less than 30 percent cocoa. At the conclusion of the study, those who ate the dark chocolate walked an average of 11 percent farther than they did at the beginning of the study.
Dark Chocolate Is Nutritious
In addition to containing antioxidants and polyphenols, high-quality dark chocolate is rich in soluble fiber and full of minerals such as iron, copper, zinc, manganese, potassium and calcium. Cacao is higher in magnesium than any other plant. Magnesium helps regulate the digestive, neurological and cardiovascular systems.
White chocolate health benefits and milk chocolate health benefits include calcium, but both types of chocolate have more sugar than dark chocolate, so if you want to reduce your sugar intake, dark chocolate is the way to go. The US Department of Agriculture even promotes dark chocolate as an acceptable after-dinner treat in its MyPlate nutrition guidelines.
Chocolate Fights Free Radicals
Free radicals are unstable oxygen molecules thought to cause aging, illness and disease. Free radicals weaken cells, and too many in the body have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, clogged arteries, cancer and autoimmune disorders.
The flavonoids found in dark chocolate protect cells from the damage caused by free radicals. Two flavonoids in particular, epicatechin and quercetin, are thought to have cancer-fighting properties.
Dark Chocolate Could Improve Blood Sugar Levels
The anti-inflammatory properties of dark chocolate are believed to improve the body’s sensitivity to insulin and reduce the risk of diabetes. When dark chocolate is consumed, polyphenols activate changes in blood sugar levels, and flavonoids reduce oxidative stress. This allows glucose, or blood sugar, to get into your cells more easily so that blood sugar levels will decrease.
Dark Chocolate May Help Prevent Heart Disease
Flavonoids and polyphenols found in dark chocolate are a major player in chocolate heart health benefits. Flavonoids have an antioxidant effect that reduces cell damage from heart disease. These flavonoids may also help lower blood pressure, lower LDL “bad” cholesterol levels, increase HDL “good” cholesterol levels and increase vascular function, which are all factors in improved heart health.
Polyphenols can help your body form more nitric oxide, which signals the body to relax. It causes blood vessels to widen and blood to flow more easily throughout your body. When blood vessels open up, blood pressure goes down.
Because dark chocolate can decrease LDL “bad” cholesterol, this should reduce the amount of plaque buildup in the arteries, which will in turn lower the risk of heart disease. In addition, research published in The BMJ revealed that consuming chocolate could help lower the risk of developing heart disease by as much as one-third.
Chocolate Improves Brain Function
There is even more good news when it comes to the health benefits chocolate provides. Dark chocolate has been shown to improve blood flow, which may also improve brain function. And since dark chocolate contains stimulants like caffeine and theobromine, short term brain function can also be improved.
Brain health may be improved because of the high levels of flavonoids in dark chocolate. A study in the FASEB Journal showed that flavonoids accumulated in regions of the brain responsible for learning and memory.
Chocolate Boosts Memory
When blood flow to the brain increases, so does your capacity for recall. The antioxidant effects of flavonoids protect the brain and can change your brain’s gamma wave frequency, which controls information processing, decreases stress and improves memory. It can also improve attention span and increase the speed at which you process visual imagery. Regular consumption of dark chocolate may even slow cognitive decline.
The benefits of eating dark chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa can be seen within 30 minutes of eating the treat and can last for as long as two hours.
Chocolate Recovers Your Muscles
Did you know that chocolate milk may help repair and rebuild muscles better than most sports drinks and for the same number of calories? The combination of carbohydrates and high-quality protein found in chocolate milk provide the most benefit for muscle recovery. In addition, milk contains electrolytes such as calcium, magnesium and potassium that are lost through sweat and that need to be replenished after working out.
Chocolate milk health benefits include the following:
- Building muscle—Drinking low fat chocolate milk can improve skeletal muscle protein synthesis so that muscles can rebuild and repair themselves easier.
- Replenishing glycogen (muscle fuel)—The mix of mix of carbohydrates and protein found in low fat chocolate milk can lead to a higher concentration of glycogen in the muscles after your workout.
- Maintaining lean muscles—Low fat chocolate milk health benefits include fewer muscle breakdowns.
- Subsequent exercise routines—Drinking low fat milk can also help improve your performance the next time you exercise.
Chocolate Balances the Immune System
A healthy immune system protects against a variety of diseases and chronic illnesses. When something irritates the immune system, it becomes inflamed, and severe inflammation can lead to long-term, chronic illness or disease. A strong immune system can help you recover from illness faster, detect and fight infection, promote sleep and reduce tiredness.
Once again, the flavonoids in dark chocolate show up and show off their massive health benefits by protecting and balancing the immune system. Specifically, flavonoids reduce oxidative stress, which can cause chronic inflammation, a major factor for the progression of diseases and disorders such as diabetes, cancer, eye disorders, heart disease, arthritis, obesity, autoimmune diseases and inflammatory bowel disease.
Dark chocolate can reduce the body’s inflammatory response to a stressor, and it is a source of fiber, which is crucial to keeping the body balanced.
What Is the Healthiest Chocolate to Eat?
The healthiest chocolate to eat is that which contains the most flavonoids and antioxidant properties. Raw cocoa powder contains the most flavonoids of any type of chocolate—even more than dark chocolate—and you can add it to many dishes when you bake or by using it to make hot chocolate. The health benefits of hot chocolate made with raw cocoa powder include all those previously listed in this article.
The health benefits of milk chocolate are similar to those of dark chocolate but to a lesser degree since it contains less cocoa (and therefore fewer antioxidants) than dark chocolate. One area where milk chocolate beats dark chocolate is with a much higher calcium content.
The health benefits of dark chocolate come from eating high quality chocolate with few ingredients, additives or other filler ingredients. At Cococlectic, we feature chocolate bars with three or fewer ingredients to maximize the health benefits. Our chocolate bars contain ethically sourced ingredients you can pronounce.
You will find the best craft chocolates through Cococlectic’s online bean-to-bar subscription club. We feature a different American small-batch bean-to-bar chocolate maker each month. These chocolate makers are passionate about their trade and make craft chocolate bars from scratch using only three main ingredients: cacao beans, sugar and cocoa butter.
At Cococlectic, our chocolate is vegan, non-GMO, fair-trade and ethically sourced and does not contain any soy, gluten, dairy or nuts. However, the chocolates may be produced in a facility that handles these ingredients.
Sign up today for the subscription club and join us for a free virtual chocolate tasting with our featured chocolate maker of the month.