Dark chocolate, also referred to as cacao in its raw and natural state, is not sweet at all. This is why most chocolate manufacturers add milk to make it sweet. However, milk chocolates do not have the same health benefits as dark chocolate or raw cacao.
Raw cacao contains polyphenols, which are also responsible for the bitter taste of dark chocolate. These ingredients are also the reason why many chocolate companies add sugar and milk to chocolate to make it sweeter. In the process of making highly sweetened chocolate, some nutrients are destroyed. But the health benefits of dark chocolate are numerous and incredible.
Impressive Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate
Here are the incredible health benefits of dark chocolate.
1. Lowers Blood Pressure
One of the amazing benefits of the moderate consumption of dark chocolate is its ability to lower blood pressure . It is also more enjoyable and cheaper way of lowering blood pressure than some medications.
The benefits of dark chocolate are greater in people who are suffering from hypertension. Many studies suggest that the flavanols present in this dessert are more effective when a person’s blood pressure is high. The flavanols stimulate the lining of the arteries to produce Nitric Oxide. One of the functions of NO is to lower resistance to blood flow and therefore reduces hypertension.
While vegetables, fruits, and natural teas are great sources of antioxidants, the cocoa bean content in dark chocolate is considered to be more powerful.
2. Helps in Improving Cognitive Function
Whether you have a big meeting, upcoming exams, or dinner with important people, dark chocolate can help you improve your level of alertness. Dark chocolate has the ability to enhance the function of the brain, making it one of the best foods to enhance memory and focus.
High consumption of this chocolate can improve abstract reasoning, working memory, scanning and tracking and visual-spatial awareness .
The consumption of flavanols-rich cocoa helps in increasing blood flow to the brain and may be beneficial in health conditions with reduced brain blood flow, such as stroke and dementia. According to a 2009 study published in Journal of Nutrition, their participants who consumed chocolate, wine, or tea had better test results and lower incidence of poor cognitive performance than those who did not. In the elderly, including flavonoid-rich foods in their diet can result in better performance in several cognitive abilities.
3. Huge Source of Antioxidants
Among the types of chocolates, dark chocolate is considered to be the healthiest. It contains high amounts of many powerful antioxidants. It is filled with catechins, polyphenols, flavanols, and theobromine that are all beneficial to the body. Antioxidants help the organs perform well and slow down the process of aging. Foods rich in antioxidants can reduce the risk of various heath conditions, including cancer.
A study conducted by the Hershey Co. published in Chemistry Central Journal compared the flavanol, polyphenol, and antioxidant activity content of cocoa powder and dark chocolate to antioxidant-rich fruits or “Super Fruits” like blueberry, acai, pomegranate and cranberry.
The researchers found that the flavanol in cocoa powder was significantly greater than other fruits used. The antioxidant capacity of dark chocolate was also higher than all super fruits except pomegranate .
4. Good for the Heart
One of the health benefits of dark chocolate is it helps in fighting against various cardiovascular diseases. The regular consumption of cocoa can improve blood flow to the heart and brain. In addition to the antioxidant properties, dark chocolates flavanols also lower blood pressure and assist in making blood platelets less sticky and able to clot. This ability lowers the risk of blood clots and stroke.
The compounds in dark chocolate are protective against the oxidation process of LDL. This results in less cholesterol to block the arteries, lowering the risk of heart diseases. A study published in International Journal of Cardiology showed that the consumption of flavonoid-rich dark chocolate significantly improved blood flow to the heart in adults regardless of the changes in oxidative stress parameters, blood pressure, and lipid profile.
Another study of 470 elderly men has found that cocoa can lower the risk of cardiovascular death by 50% over a 15 year period.
5. Anti-Cancer Benefits
That delicious dark chocolate that we love can also help in reducing the risk of cancer. One of the incredible health benefits of dark chocolate is its ability to prevent skin, prostate, and lung cancer. Adding powdered cocoa to your daily meals allows you to reap its cancer-fighting benefits without feeling any kind of guilt.
The rich supply of flavonoids in dark chocolate may play a role in the prevention of cancer. Flavonoids combat free radicals in the blood stream and helps in chelation, a process of eliminating heavy metals. Various flavonoids can also slow down the development of artificially-induced cancers.
There is still not enough evidence that flavonoids truly combat cancer, but it can prevent various types of cancer in a pleasurable way.
6. Raises Good Cholesterol (HDL)
The polyphenols in dark chocolate and cocoa power can lower the bad cholesterol and raise the antioxidant capacity of good cholesterol. According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the consumption of dark chocolate has been shown to lower blood pressure and insulin resistance .
Another study published in Southern Medical Journal observed the effects of dark chocolate on 28 healthy subjects. It was found that one week of dark chocolate consumption enhanced lipid profiles, reduced inflammation in women, and decreased platelet reactivity for both men and women .
The results also showed that:
- Three-week consumption of dark chocolate increased good cholesterol.
- Polyphenols in dark chocolate may be involved in the regulation of cholesterol.
- Seven-day consumption of regular dark chocolate reduced LDL cholesterol by 6% and increased HDL cholesterol by 9%.
7. Prevents Depression
One of the health benefits of dark chocolate is the ability to prevent depression. It has theobromine, a chemical similar to caffeine, which can boost energy levels and excitability. The anandamide chemical in dark chocolate is also an excellent mood and energy booster without cardiovascular damage and addiction. These chemicals, including tryptophan, can help you feel calm.
Dark chocolate also contains phenethylamine, a chemical that is metabolized into serotonin. Serotonin, also called happy hormones, is one of chemicals that are responsible for your mood. If you need to increase your energy levels without consuming a lot of calories, you consume dark chocolate to bring you back to the baseline. For best results, choose dark chocolate over milk chocolate. Consume it in moderation.
8. Gives Skin Protection
The moderate consumption of dark chocolate has been known to reduce and prevent damages caused by the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun. German researchers have found that the flavonoids present in this delicious dessert absorb ultraviolet light, increase blood circulation and protects the skin. Dark chocolate can also enhance the skin complexion and helps in keeping it hydrated.
Packed with various essential nutrients and powerful antioxidants, dark chocolates can help your skin stay healthy and moist. It also makes an effective skin-detoxifier when combined with caffeine, allowing faster skin regeneration. In addition to the ultraviolet rays of the sun, dark chocolates also contain stress-relieving qualities that are also beneficial to the skin.
9. Strengthens the Immune System
The powerful antioxidants in dark chocolate, along with other essential nutrients, can boost your immune system. Dark chocolate also helps in modulating the inflammatory response of the immune system. Inflammation is the response of the tissues to certain chemicals, infections, wounds, or pathogens. Flavonoids are associated with anti-inflammatory properties, and dark chocolate is packed of these compounds.
In addition to dark chocolate’s anti-inflammatory properties, coca can also provide positive impacts on certain cells that produce antibodies . Antibodies are the Y-shaped protein produced by plasma cells and are used by the immune system to neutralize pathogens like viruses and bacteria. Cocoa can also have beneficial effects on the lymphoid tissues. Lymphoid organs assist in coordinating the immune response of the body.
10. Can Help During Pregnancy
One of the health benefits of dark chocolate is its ability to improve fetal growth. Moderate consumption of this delicious dessert can provide benefits during pregnancy. It is a good source of antioxidants that neutralize free acids in the body. It also contains calcium that contributes to bone development.
There are some evidences that the consumption of chocolate during pregnancy can reduce the risk of preeclampsia. It is a condition characterized by high blood pressure that usually begins after 20 weeks of pregnancy. If left untreated, it can lead to serious complications for both the mother and baby . Dark chocolate can reduce stress levels and lower blood pressure.
There are considerable studies and evidences that cocoa or dark chocolate can provide numerous health benefits. One of the best health benefits of dark chocolate is its ability to protect our bodies against cardiovascular diseases. But of course, that does not mean that people should eat lots of chocolates daily. For best results, consume dark chocolates moderately.
1. Dirk Taubert, MD, PhD, and Colleagues. “Dark chocolate — not white chocolate — lowers high blood pressure.” Viewed at: http://www.webmd.com/diet/news/20030827/dark-chocolate-is-healthy-chocolate#1
2. Crichton GE, Elias MF, and Alkerwi A. “More frequent chocolate consumption was significantly associated with better performance on the Global Composite score, Visual-Spatial Memory and Organization, Working Memory, Scanning and Tracking, Abstract Reasoning, and the Mini-Mental State Examination. Viewed at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26873453
3. Stephen J Crozier and Amy G Preston. “Cacao seeds are a “Super Fruit”: A comparative analysis of various fruit powders and products. Viewed at: http://jn.nutrition.org/content/139/1/120.full
4. Davide Grassi, Stefano Necozioni and Cristina Lippi. Cocoa Reduces Blood Pressure and Insulin Resistance and Improves Endothelium-Dependent Vasodilation in Hypertensives. Viewed at: http://hyper.ahajournals.org/content/46/2/398.long
5. Hamed MS, Gambert S and Bliden KP. Dark chocolate effect on platelet activity, C-reactive protein and lipid profile: a pilot study. Viewed at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19005437
6. Francisco J. Perez-Cano, Malen Massot-Clateroa and Angels Franch. The effects of cocoa on the immune system. Viewed at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3671179/
7. Mayo Clinic Staff: “Preeclampsia is a pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure and signs of damage to another organ system, most often the liver and kidneys.” Viewed at: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/preeclampsia/home/ovc-20316140
Amanda is a gym instructor and a diet and nutrition fanatic that has reviewed 100s of supplements for the benefit of consumers. She struggled with obesity 7 years ago and after losing more than 30lbs, dedicates most of her time in helping others achieve similar results and transform their lives.