It’s not often that something truly delicious also happens to be super healthy. Chocoholics can rejoice in the fact that dark chocolate has many proven health benefits - its rich in antioxidants and has cardiovascular benefits. However, high levels of sugar and high calorie content can counter the benefits of chocolate if it is consumed in large quantities (take notes, chocoholics!). This is particularly true of sweet milk chocolate rather than true dark chocolate.
Chocolate is made from cocoa beans that form in pods on the branches of the cacao tree. Each ripe cacao pod contains 30-50 seeds or beans that are pale lilac or brown in color. Grown in the equatorial tropics, the ripe, fatty seeds are harvested, fermented or “sweated” in the open air then dried and bagged for export. Cacao mills and chocolate factories grind the beans to make decadent chocolate bars and drinks.
Here are five health benefits of dark chocolate:
1. Nutrient-Rich Dark Chocolate Benefits
Rich in soluble fiber, protein and minerals, dark chocolate benefits include trace amounts of iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, and selenium. Four squares (43g or 1.5 ounces) of Ghirardelli 72% Dark Twilight Delight Chocolate are shown to contain:
- Calories 230
- Total fat 20g (mostly saturated and monounsaturated)
- Cholesterol 0mg
- Sodium 0g
- Carbohydrates 19g
- Fiber 4g
- Sugars 11g
- Protein 3g
2. Antioxidants in Dark Chocolate
Scientists measure how well antioxidants in any particular food manage to disarm or negate harmful free radicals using a scale called the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC). Unprocessed cocoa beans are among the highest-scoring foods, showing they are brimming with biologically active antioxidants. Tests show that cacao even outshines blueberries and acai berries for antioxidant activity, demonstrating the exceptional benefits of dark chocolate.
3. Chocolate for Circulation
Flavonoids in dark chocolate stimulate the lining of arteries, improving blood blow and reducing blood pressure. Although the bioactive compounds improve blood flow, the decrease in blood pressure is small, so other health measures will need to be implemented to significantly lower hypertension.
4. Health Cholesterol Levels from Chocolate
In a scientific trial on men with elevated cholesterol readings, cocoa powder significantly lowered bad LDL cholesterol and increased good HDL cholesterol. The antioxidants lower oxidized LDL and produce overall improved cholesterol levels. Dark chocolate benefits also extend to reducing insulin resistance, lowering the risk for heart disease and diabetes.
5. Dark Chocolate Benefits Include Brain Function
One final dark chocolate benefit is that the caffeine and theobromine content in cocoa is thought to improve brain function. A study on participants who consumed high flavanol cocoa for five days showed a significant increase in blood flow to the brain.
There are a few provisos for considering dark chocolate benefits as healthy. Here they are:
- Only chocolate that contains 70-85% cacao content offers these health benefits
- Healthy dark chocolate should contain less than 10 grams (10%) sugar per 100 grams
- Dark chocolate should be eaten in modest amounts of 1-2 ounces maximum per day
Now go and treat yourself to some healthy antioxidant brain food, for the sake of your health, of course!