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 can improve your health and lower the risk of heart disease. This article reviews 7 health benefits of dark chocolate or cocoa that are supported by science.
1. Very Nutritious
Share on PintereIf 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 100-gram bar of dark chocolate with 70–85% cocoa contains:
- 11 grams of fibre
- 67% of the RDI for iron
- 58% of the RDI for magnesium
- 89% of the RDI for copper
- 98% of the RDI for manganese
- It also has plenty of potassium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium
The fatty acid profile of cocoa and dark chocolate is also excellent. The fats are mostly saturated and monounsaturated, with small amounts of polyunsaturated fat.
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. Powerful Source of Antioxidants
ORAC stands for “oxygen radical absorbance capacity.” It is a measure of the antioxidant activity of foods. Basically, researchers set a bunch of free radicals (bad) against a sample of a food and see how well the antioxidants in the food can “disarm” the radicals. The biological relevance of ORAC values is questioned, because it’s measured in a test tube and may not have the same effect in the body. However, 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 and catechins, among others.
3. 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). One of the functions of NO is to send signals to the arteries to relax, which lowers the resistance to blood flow and therefore reduces blood pressure.
4. Raises HDL and Protects LDL From Oxidation
Consuming dark chocolate can improve several important risk factors for heart disease. In a controlled study, cocoa powder was found to significantly decrease oxidized LDL cholesterol in men. It also increased HDL and lowered total LDL for those with high cholesterol. Dark chocolate can also reduce insulin resistance, which is another common risk factor for many diseases like heart disease and diabetes.
5. May Reduce Heart Disease Risk
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, resulting in a lower risk of heart disease. Of course, these three studies are observational studies, so can’t prove that it was the chocolate that reduced the risk. However, since the biological process is known (lower blood pressure and oxidized LDL), it is plausible that regularly eating dark chocolate may reduce the risk of heart disease.
6. May Protect Your Skin From the Sun
The bioactive compounds in dark chocolate may also be great for your skin. The flavonols can protect against sun 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.
7. Could Improve Brain Function
The good news isn’t over yet. Dark chocolate may also improve the function of your brain. Cocoa may also significantly improve cognitive function in elderly people with mental impairment. It may improve verbal fluency and several risk factors for disease, as well. Additionally, cocoa contains stimulant substances like caffeine and theobromine, which may be a key reason why it can improve brain function in the short term.
The Bottom Line
There is considerable evidence that cocoa can provide powerful health benefits, being especially protective against heart disease. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should go all out and consume lots of chocolate every day. It is still loaded with calories and easy to overeat. Maybe have a square or two after dinner and try to really savour them. If you want the benefits of cocoa without the calories in chocolate, consider making a hot cocoa without any cream or sugar. Also be aware that a lot of the chocolate on the market is not healthy. Choose quality stuff — dark chocolate with 70% or higher cocoa content. Dark chocolates typically contain some sugar, but the amounts are usually small and the darker the chocolate, the less sugar it will contain. Chocolate is one of the few foods that taste awesome while providing significant health benefits.