You may have heard how great dark chocolate is. You may even have used its reported health benefits to give yourself permission to tuck into a giant slab of chocolate every so often.
After all, how great is it to be told your favorite sweet and indulgent treat is actually helping you stay healthy?
But does dark chocolate really live up to all the hype? (And there is a lot of hype!)
Thankfully, it does…most of the time.
Read on to discover what I found out about this alleged superfood.
The Lies About Dark Chocolate
The sensational headlines earlier this year claiming chocolate helps the pounds melt off was welcomed by chocoholics everywhere.
But, I’m sorry to say it was all a big hoax.
The science journalist behind the whole thing wasn’t interested in testing chocolate’s effect on weight loss. Instead, his aim was to demonstrate how easy it is to turn bad science into the big headlines behind fad diets. And many fell for it.
Thankfully, I wasn’t convinced by it all.
But, I do believe that chocolate has some great (and real!) health benefits.
What Makes Dark Chocolate So Special?
Firstly, let’s look at why chocolate has the potential to be a superfood.
Bursting with Antioxidants
Cocoa is rich in antioxidant flavonoids called flavanols, which include procyanidins, epicatechins, and catechins. (You might remember catechins as being one of the secrets behind green tea’s incredible powers).
Researchers developed a test to measure the antioxidant power of food. In the tests, raw unsweetened cocoa powder came out pretty much on top, beating superfoods like ginger, raspberries, acai berries, blueberries, blackberries, and a lot more.
It’s worth noting that these tests have been dismissed by some, because they were performed in a test tube. So questions do arise about their relevance in the human body.
But, plenty of human studies have proven that chocolate has beneficial effects throughout the body, so there must be some merit to the ORAC tests.
Top of the Anti-Inflammatory Pyramid
An anti-inflammatory diet aims to reduce inflammation throughout the body, an issue that can eventually lead to heart disease, cancer, aging, and many other conditions.
Thankfully, it’s a pretty flexible diet allowing some treats – including dark chocolate, which is quickly becoming known as an anti-inflammatory superfood.
The diet’s creator even placed it in his anti-inflammatory food pyramid, giving you his blessing to enjoy chocolate (sparingly of course).
A Nutritional Powerhouse
A 100 g bar of dark chocolate with 70% to 85% cacao solids contains:
- 11 g of Fiber
- 8 g of Protein
- 98% of your RDA (recommend daily average) of Manganese
- 89% of your RDA of Copper
- 67% of your RDA of Iron
- 58% of your RDA of Magnesium
- 31% of your RDA of Phosphorous
- 22% of your RDA of Zinc
- 21% of your RDA of Potassium
Pretty impressive for a sweet treat!
But, it also contains a lot of calories and too much saturated fat – exactly why chocolate will never be a weight loss aid.
While I don’t recommend eating a whole bar, I like to eat a square or two every now and then. It’s so rich that I only need a little bit to curb my sweet tooth.
8 Amazing Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate
Now, on to dark chocolate’s actual health benefits.
Rev Up Your Libido
Chocolate and sex?
I bet you’re already sold on the benefits of dark chocolate and we still have seven more to go.
Chocolate contains l-arginine – an amino acid that works as a natural sex enhancer for both guys and girls. It actually increases blood flow to your sexual organs, which improves sensation, satisfaction, and desire.
This wonder food also contains phenylethylamine, a chemical thought to produce the feeling of ‘being in love’. It doesn’t hurt that dark chocolate also boosts our mood and helps our heart.
Did you know that chocolate isn’t the only food that can give you a healthy sexual appetite? Pair it with figs and almonds for a serious libido boosting dessert.
Protect your Heart
Keep your heart strong and healthy well into old age by indulging in a little dark chocolate now and then.
You don’t even need that much to lower your risk of stroke or heart attack – according to German researchers, around 1 square a day should do the trick.
They studied over 19,000 people for at least ten years and found that those who ate the most chocolate (7.5 grams a day) had lower blood pressure and a 39% lower risk of having a heart attack or stroke compared to those who ate the least amount (1.7 grams a day).
And according to a study carried out over 15 years, having cocoa regularly was found to reduce the risk of cardiovascular death by 50% in elderly men.
Help Manage Your Weight
No, I didn’t buy into the hype that by eating a ton of chocolate bars you will accelerate weight loss. But it might just be a useful aid in helping you stick to your healthy eating plan.
Hear me out.
Firstly, a study between the effects of white and dark chocolate found that participants who ate the dark chocolate experienced lower blood sugar levels.
Researchers aren’t sure why but they think dark chocolate’s antioxidants may help the body use insulin more efficiently to control blood sugar, which lowers blood sugar levels naturally.
Dr. Oz claims that learning how to stabilize your blood sugar is the key to help you lose weight and keep it off.
Secondly, a little treat can help you stick to your weight loss goals.
How many times have you told yourself you can’t have something, obsessed about it and then binged on everything in sight? By allowing yourself a little of what you want, you’ll keep the cravings at bay.
Good for Your Blood
The flavanols in cocoa and chocolate may help lower blood pressure and improve blood flow to the brain and heart. They also help blood platelets to clot.
These amazing flavanols stimulate your body’s arteries to produce nitric oxide, which helps relax the blood vessels and lower blood pressure.
However, researchers caution that you just need to eat a little bit of chocolate to have an effect. And even then it only works with mildly high blood pressure.
Balance Your Cholesterol
Yeah this one is a little surprising. After all, I did say that chocolate is high in saturated fat.
But the fat in chocolate comes from cocoa butter, which is made up of equal amounts of oleic acid, stearic acid, and palmitic acid.
Oleic acid is that heart healthy monounsaturated fat found in olive oil. Even though stearic acid is a saturated fat, it has been found to have no effect on the ratio of LDL to HDL cholesterol! Palmitic acid does affect cholesterol though, which is just one of the reasons to enjoy chocolate in moderation.
Cocoa powder – the raw ingredient in chocolate – has been found to increase HDL (the good) and lower total LDL (the bad) cholesterol levels in men with already high cholesterol. Thankfully, the same benefits can be gained by eating the actual chocolate bar, according to scientists at San Diego State University.
The news that chocolate affects your emotions probably isn’t a shock to many. Who isn’t instantly cheered up by a sweet treat?
But there’s science behind it too.
Unsweetened dark chocolate has been shown to be the most effective type of chocolate when it comes to reducing stress and anxiety levels.
The phenylethylamine (that same chemical that makes you feel in love) also encourages your brain to release endorphins, making you feel happier. Endorphins even possess morphine like effects, which help to block out pain.
The caffeine in chocolate is a mild stimulant which can further boost the mood, although it contains nowhere near the levels of caffeine that coffee does. Try doubling up your happiness by enjoying both together.
Save your Skin
This is good news for those of you who like to soak up the sun’s amazing vitamin D rich rays.
Dark chocolate has been shown to protect against UV rays, increase blood flow to the skin and improve skin’s hydration.
A study demonstrated that regularly eating chocolate rich in flavanols offers significant sun protection and can protect from harmful UV effects; while standard milk chocolate had no effect.
Of course, never skip the sunscreen in favor of chomping on a few chocolate bars. Look at the chocolate as an added layer of protection instead.
Protect Your Mind
Those clever clogs at Harvard have found that a daily dose of chocolate may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
The incredible antioxidant power of dark chocolate protects the brain from oxidative stress and aging. Participants in the study were asked to drink two cups of hot cocoa a day for eight weeks – half drank cocoa high in antioxidants, while the others drank cocoa with lower levels.
I wouldn’t mind signing up for a study like that…all in the name of science of course.
Chocolate’s caffeine content may also be useful in relieving migraines and other headaches.
Choose your Chocolate Wisely
Will all these amazing health benefits, I’ll bet you want to rush out to the store to grab a few chocolate bars.
But hold up. Here’s what you need to know first.
Not only do you have to be careful about how much you eat, you need to watch what type of dark chocolate you enjoy.
Why? Because of sugar!
While most dark chocolate contains added sugar, you don’t want it to be the main ingredient. If cocoa solids aren’t the first ingredient listed, put it back on the shelf. Sugar should be towards the very end.
You’ll also want to be aiming for at least 70% cocoa content. And the higher the better…although it gets pretty bitter the higher you go!
Sugar’s not the only concern if you’re looking for maximum health benefits.
Apparently, researchers in the UK found that the levels of antioxidant flavanols vary widely from brand to brand and they don’t always correlate to the labeled cocoa content. This happens because the chocolate refining process strips cocoa of its naturally occurring antioxidants in different ways.
Pick the best quality chocolate that you can find, and avoid the bars that have added milk fat or hydrogenated vegetable oils as these are both sources of unhealthy saturated fats.
And Don’t Forget…
Chocolate isn’t the only antioxidant rich food. All sorts of fruit and vegetables from blueberries and strawberries, to kale and sweet potatoes have antioxidant power – so make them your first choice in the fight against free radicals.
Regular exercise can also work to boost the mood, increase libido and lose weight.
Basically, if you want to enjoy chocolate as a treat in an otherwise healthy diet then go for it – it’s a far healthier option than donuts and McFlurries. Just don’t fool yourself into thinking it’s the only way to gain all these incredible health benefits.
What do you think of the chocolate study hoax – a wake-up call or just cruelty to chocolate lovers everywhere?