The Amazing Benefits of Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate is certainly a superfood that has been well studies for its incredible health benefits. One of the most famous is its ability to stimulate Nitric Oxide (NO) production which is one of the most important molecules for blood vessel health as its a vasodilator (opens blood flow) which can decrease overall blood pressure.
Dark chocolate has also been found to enhance mitochondrial function – the main energy producing organ of each cell in your body. The majority of this comes from the polyphenols – specifically the flavanols, proanthocyandins and the anthocyanins found in chocolate.
Epicatecin is one flavanol that is only found only dark chocolate as its eliminated in the process of making milk or white chocolate.
Most “real” dark chocolate bars also come packed with other nutrients including fiber (which helps to negate blood sugar spikes and reduce insulin resistance in diabetics), magnesium (most bars have 50-60% of the RDI and its a known relaxant, reducer of blood pressure and sugars and an essential ingredient in nearly every biochemical process in the body), selenium (needed for normal thyroid function and overall immune strength), potassium (relaxant from stress/anxiety, water balance, nerve system function and stroke reduction), zinc (immune system booster and memory enhancer) and manganese (essential cofactor for super oxide dismutase, SOD – perhaps the most important antioxidant in the human body).
There are even various studies in the National Library of Medicine which show the consumption of 50-100g of raw dark chocolate can lower blood pressure, restore cholesterol levels, decrease inflammation and even extend life expectancy!
Does this make you want to stop and grab a bar on the way home?
If the answer is yes, then here are some tips on picking out a “real” bar of dark chocolate:
- Grab the highest % cacao bar you can find. Preferably nothing less than 70%, ideally as close to 90% as possible. There will be a “bitterness” that comes with higher percentages but that’s what you’re looking for!
- Lowest Total Carbohydrate you can find. Compare bars by turning them over and scanning for which one has the lowest Total Carbs, preferably less than 10g. Many healthy dark chocolate bars are sweetened with stevia, monk fruit or sugar alcohols. The best would be nothing at all added, or stevia sweetened.
- Check the ingredients, making sure chocolate (cacao, cocoa or chocolate liquor is the first ingredient. Also, the bar with the least ingredients would be preferable over one with a long list of “things”
- Organic: this will ensure that neither pesticides, herbicides or any other chemicals were used in the ingredients
- Fair Trade: this means that the chocolate was harvested using a certified process to ensure the quality of the bean as well as the income for the farmers who supplied it.
Research Behind Chocolate and Health
Lower blood pressure. One study gave 60 participants with hypertension (high blood pressure) and diabetes either 25 grams of dark or white chocolate over eight weeks. Dark chocolate improved triglyceride levels and blood pressure. White chocolate eaters saw no improvements.
Improve insulin sensitivity. One study among 1,153 people found that chocolate could improve liver enzymes and protect against the insulin resistance that, left unchecked, can develop into type 2 diabetes.
Boost mood and cognition. Most studies evaluated in one systematic review found chocolate could improve your mood or attenuate a negative mood. That same review found cocoa could enhance how your brain functions. Scientists aren’t entirely sure why chocolate makes you feel better, but does it matter?
Protect against oxidative stress. When dangerous free radicals overtake your body’s antioxidant defense, a dangerous, disease-triggering condition called oxidative stress can result. Antioxidants in dark chocolate can help your body better manage those free radicals. One study found that cocoa powder and dark chocolate had the equivalent or higher amounts of antioxidants compared with blueberry, pomegranate, and other fruit powders and juices.
Lower inflammation. Cocoa flavanols are strongly anti-inflammatory. That’s important because chronic inflammation — a low-grade, oftentimes-silent, potentially deadly inflammation — contributes to nearly every disease on the planet.
Support heart health. Dark chocolate’s nitric oxide boost can improve blood flow to your heart, and one meta-analysis found that chocolate could reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease. At least in moderation —researchers recommended eating less than 100 grams per week. Higher amounts pack a lot of sugar and calories, which could negate chocolate’s health benefits.
Accelerate Weight Loss: Flavanols can help reduce the oxidative stress and inflammation that forces your body to hold on to weight. Dark chocolate can also reduce your appetite by modulating hunger hormones like ghrelin. Chocolate promotes well-being, which means you maintain a better mindset to lose weight.