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8 Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate

Healthy eaters unite in their love of this indulgent snack.  As more companies produce an increasing variety of dark chocolate bars it is harder to determine which ones are best.  It is not a one recipe fits all food. To get the most bang for your snack it is important to understand which bar to choose.  

Not all Chocolate is Created Equal 

Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate

White chocolate does not contain any cocoa solids. It is made up of the cocoa butter that remains when the dark solids of the cocoa bean are processed. (1)  That is why some debate if it really is chocolate.  

Milk chocolate uses the whole cocoa bean with added milk products (powdered, liquid or condensed milk).  The lower the amount of cocoa the lower the health benefits. For this reason, milk chocolate is not the chosen one for health benefits. 

Dark chocolate is produced with a higher content of cocoa than white or milk chocolates.  The cocoa is where the health benefits exist. Most packaging will state the level used. 

In the United States it must be a minimum 0f 35% cocoa.  The differences come when the manufacturer adds sugar. Semi-sweet has more sugar added than bitter-sweet variations.  A general rule of thumb is the higher the cocoa percentage the higher the health benefits.  

Modern production methods are thought to lower the flavonoid count in dark chocolate.  When choosing which one to buy read carefully. You want one that indicates 60% - 70% cacao.(2)

What is in dark chocolate to make it healthier? 

Cocoa beans in dark chocolate

Flavonoids are the key to the success of this tasty treat.  Antioxidants are vital to a healthy lifestyle because they destroy free radicals.  Well, this is what flavonoids are; antioxidants.

Antioxidants have been found to repair environmental damage in plants.  This finding lead to further research to discover what those same antioxidants offer humans.  

It contains additional perks including magnesium, iron and other minerals found in the delicious treat.  

Some Known Benefits of Dark Chocolate  

Heart health and dark chocolate

Heart Health

Heart disease reduction occurs because of the potential for improved blood flow and lowered cholesterol.   Flavanol content is the highest flavonoid found in dark chocolate. This powerhouse has been found to improve blood flow to the brain and heart, especially in older adults.     

When your blood flow increases your heart has to work harder.  Contrary to what we may think, a heart needs the workout just like other muscles.  When it has to process the blood flow more quickly it gets an important exercise.  This decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease.  

Blood pressure 

Improved blood flow equals lower blood pressure.  Studies have found that nitric oxide dilates blood vessels.  When they are wider the blood flows more easily and in turn your blood pressure decreases.   

The same flavonols we covered earlier are responsible for stimulating your body's nitric oxide production. A very important factor is ensuring the cocoa percentage is at least 50% to 70%. 

Many studies concentrate on participants age 50 and older that are at higher risk of heart disease.  That does not take away from the benefits to younger adults as well. 

Cholesterol 

Key to a successful cholesterol level is to lower your LDL cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein) while maintaining high HDL cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein) levels.  An easy way to remember this is low LDL (bad cholesterol) and high HDL (good cholesterol).

Dark chocolate is made up of various powerful compounds.  Two of those are polyphenols and theobromine. One study found that the participants experienced a 20% decrease in LDL and a 20% increase in HDL. (3)

Blood Sugar and Insulin Resistance 

Diabetes and dark chocolate

Patients battling blood sugar issues such as diabetes, often wish for a sweet treat.  Research is discovering this may be possible and improve a patient's A1C levels. Eating chocolate in general is not advised when attempting to lower your blood sugar.  However, dark chocolate is an exception when eaten in moderation.  

A study conducted by Mee Young Hong, PHD discovered that insulin may be used more efficiently when patients consumed dark chocolate. (4)  The participants showed lowered blood sugar levels after consuming 1.7 ounces for 15 days.  

Researchers are haven't determined what the appropriate amount a diabetes patient should consume. It is best to discuss this with your physician and seek sound medical advice.  

Anti-inflammatory 

Chronic inflammation is associated with a large number of ailments. Part of the bodily response to invaders and illness is inflammation.  Unfortunately that can lead to additional problems like pain, arthritis, asthma and more.  

There are all sorts of over-the-counter and prescription meds for inflammation.  Why not try to avoid some of those by consuming a yummy treat?  There are also many natural supplements that will help.  

Vision Health

The power of dark chocolate is now found to have a positive impact on eyesight.  The anti-inflammatory compounds improve blood flow to and in the eyes.

One study measured the effects, two hours after consumption. The researchers determined there was improved vision.  They did not discover if there are possible long term benefits. (5)   

Cognitive function    

Mental clarity and dark chocolate The power of dark chocolate flavonoids decrease swelling and increase blood flow in the brain.  Increased blood flow to the brain improves cognitive function.  

Brain swelling can lead to many medical issues that range from mild, like problem solving, to severe.  Some of those include dementia, alzheimers and parkinson's diseases.

A study conducted in 2017 found that compounds in dark chocolate decrease brain swelling which kills neurons.  Their death leads to Parkinson’s disease. Researchers found that dark chocolate decreased the demise of those neurons and decreased cognitive decline. (6)

Cancer Prevention Potential 

Antioxidants reduce the damage to cells.  When talking about cancer that is important because it is damaged cells that can lead to cancer.  Not all cancers are created equal so the effectiveness varies. The National Cancer Institute is conducting research to better understand dark chocolate and cancer. 

It is important to remember that added sugar in the diet of a cancer patient is not wise.  You have to carefully weigh the benefits and risks after talking to your physician. The higher percentage of cocoa powder in the candy the less sugar present.  

Conclusion

Choose wisely.  Not all chocolate is the same.  Milk and white chocolates do not contain the same powerhouses as dark.  Even in the world of dark chocolate you need to look for high content of cocoa; preferably 70% or higher.  

Antioxidants are vital to a healthy body.  This sweet snack is full of many beneficial compounds including the all important antioxidants.  Healthier cells create a healthier you.  

Moderation.  Excessive chocolate intake can lead to additional problems like obesity.  Keep in mind that you do not want to take away from the benefits by eating too much.  Even this powerhouse treat has saturated fats to consider when eating. 

The amounts of dark chocolate have not been thoroughly researched.  Discuss it with your physician and reach an educated decision Research is still ongoing to determine how much is enough.  

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Resources:

  1. www.wikipedia.org
  2. www.aarp.org
  3. www.webmd.com
  4. www.webmd.com
  5. www.jamanetwork.com
  6. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov