Dark chocolate is loaded with nutrients that can have a positive effect on your health. Made from the seed of the cocoa tree, it is one of the best sources of antioxidants you can find. Studies show that dark chocolate can improve your health and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Here are 7 science-backed health benefits of dark chocolate or cocoa.
1. Highly Nutritious
If you buy quality dark chocolate with a high cocoa content, it is very nutritious. It contains a decent amount of soluble fiber and is loaded with minerals.
A bar of 100 grams of dark chocolate with 70-85% cocoa contains:
11 grams of fiber
67% of daily iron intake
58% of the recommended daily value for magnesium
89% of AN for copper
98% NA for manganese
Also, it contains a lot of potassium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium.
Of course, 100 grams is quite a large amount and shouldn’t be consumed daily. These nutrients also come with 600 calories and moderate amounts of sugar. This is why dark chocolate should be consumed in moderation. The fatty acid profile of cocoa and dark chocolate is also good. Fats are primarily made up of oleic acid (a heart-healthy fat also found in olive oil), stearic acid, and palmitic acid.
Stearic acid has a neutral effect on body cholesterol. Palmitic acid can raise cholesterol levels, but it only makes up one-third of total calories from fat. Dark chocolate also contains stimulants like caffeine and theobromine, but it is unlikely to keep you up at night as the amount of caffeine is very low compared to coffee.
2. A Powerful Source of Antioxidants
Dark chocolate is loaded with biologically active organic compounds that function as antioxidants. These include, among others, polyphenols, flavanols and catechins. One study showed that cocoa and dark chocolate had more antioxidant activity, polyphenols and flavanols than all other fruits tested, including blueberries and acai berries.
3. May Improve Blood Circulation and Lower Blood Pressure
The flavanols in dark chocolate can stimulate the endothelium, the lining of the arteries, to produce nitric oxide (NO). One of the functions of NO is to send signals to the arteries to relax, which lowers resistance to blood flow and therefore lowers blood pressure. Numerous controlled studies show that cocoa and dark chocolate can improve blood flow and lower blood pressure, although the effects are generally mild.
Given the wide variation between studies on this topic, it is clear that more research is needed.
4. Increases HDL and protects LDL from oxidation.
Consuming dark chocolate may improve several important risk factors for heart disease. In a controlled study, cocoa powder was found to significantly lower oxidized LDL (bad cholesterol) in men. It also increased HDL and decreased total LDL in people with high cholesterol. Oxidized LDL means that LDL cholesterol has reacted with free radicals. This makes the LDL particle itself reactive and capable of damaging other tissues, such as the lining of arteries in the heart. It makes perfect sense that cocoa reduces oxidized LDL levels. It contains an abundance of powerful antioxidants which pass into the blood and protect lipoproteins against oxidative damage. The flavanols in dark chocolate can also reduce insulin resistance, which is another common risk factor for conditions like heart disease and diabetes.
5. May Reduce Risk of Heart Disease
Compounds in dark chocolate appear to have a highly protective effect against LDL oxidation. In the long term, this should allow much less cholesterol to lodge in the arteries, hence a lower risk of heart disease. In fact, several long-term observational studies show quite drastic improvement. In a study of 470 elderly men, cocoa was found to reduce the risk of death from heart disease by 50% over 15 years. Another study found that eating chocolate two or more times a week reduced the risk of having calcified plaques in the arteries by 32%. Eating chocolate less frequently had no effect. Yet another study showed that eating dark chocolate more than five times a week lowered the risk of heart disease by 57%.
6. Can protect your skin from the sun
The bioactive compounds in dark chocolate may also benefit your skin. Flavanols can protect against sun damage, improve blood flow to the skin, and increase skin density and hydration.
The minimum erythemal dose (MED) is the minimum amount of UVB rays needed to cause redness on the skin 24 hours after exposure. In a study of 30 people, the MED more than doubled after consuming flavanol-rich dark chocolate for 12 weeks. If you’re planning a beach vacation, consider consuming a little more dark chocolate in the weeks and months leading up. But check with your doctor or dermatologist before forgoing your usual skincare routine to consume more dark chocolate.
7. May Improve Brain Function
The good news doesn’t end there. Dark chocolate might also improve your brain function. A study in healthy volunteers showed that consuming high flavanol cocoa for 5 days improved blood flow to the brain. Cocoa may also significantly improve cognitive function in older adults with mild cognitive impairment. It may also improve verbal fluency and several disease risk factors.
Additionally, cocoa contains stimulants like caffeine and theobromine, which could be a key reason why it can improve short-term brain function (26Trusted Source).