Dark Chocolate - Health Benefits, Nutrition Info, Fun Facts
Dark Chocolate (Cocoa) is a refined product made from cacoa beans. Popular all over the world for its effect as a stimulant, the type of chocolate you eat can matter greatly.
Without a doubt, dark chocolate (80%+ cocoa solids) is much more beneficial than milk chocolate, white chocolate, or any other kind of candied chocolate. Since chocolate is high in saturated fat, consume no more than 28-60 grams of dark chocolate a day.
Health benefits of dark chocolate includes protection against cognitive decline, cholesterol reduction, lower blood pressure, increased insulin sensitivity, and protection of DNA from oxidative stress.
Dark chocolate is highly nutritious and is a good source of manganese, copper, iron, fat, magnesium, fiber, phosphorus, and zinc. The calories and saturated fats in chocolate make it less desirable, though the plant sterols found in chocolate are thought to cancel out any harmful effects from saturated fat.
Read more for details on the health benefits, nutrient info, and fun facts about dark chocolate.
Dark Chocolate Health Benefits
1. Flavanols in Dark Chocolate Can Protect the Brain from the Harmful Effects of Aging
In animal models the flavanols found in cocoa have been shown to protect against cognitive decline and dementia. (1) Observational studies in humans have confirmed these findings. Flavanols from chocolate accumulate in the brain regions involved in learning and memory. The accumulated flavanols are theorized to interact with other chemicals in the brain to have a protective effect, and also to promote angiogensis, improving blood flow to the brain. (1).
2. Dark Chocolate Can Lower Cholesterol
Despite being high in calories and saturated fat, dark chocolate can help lower cholesterol (2). This is due to the plant sterols found in chocolate. Further, dark chocolate is certainly a better snack than candy bars, or other high sugar foods that can elevate cholesterol.
3. Dark Chocolate Lowers Blood Pressure
In this meta-analysis review of numerous chocolate studies on blood pressure, dark chocolate was found to significantly lower blood pressure. (3) This can be due to dark chocolate being high in potassium, and also to the flavanols found in dark chocolate, as well as the theobromine.
4. Dark Chocolate Can Increase Insulin Sensitivity
Dark chocolate (85% Cocoa+) can increase insulin sensitivity reducing the risk of type II diabetes. In one study participants were given 100 grams of dark chocolate a day for 15 days. During this period their insulin sensitivity improved (4). During another 15 day period, the same people were given only white chocolate, in which case their insulin sensitivity got worse. This study suggests that the lower sugar content and flavanols in dark chocolate help regulate insulin in the body.
5. Dark Chocolate Can Protect DNA from Oxidative Stress
In a very interesting study, 2 groups of people were followed for 28 days. The first 2 weeks they were given a constant diet, and then the last 2 weeks were given the addition of either white chocolate or dark chocolate. Measurements were collected after the first initial chocolate-free 2 weeks to establish a baseline, and then after the 2 more weeks with chocolate. Those who ate dark chocolate showed lower levels of DNA damage in mononuclear blood cells (white blood cells) (5). This study suggests that flavanols in dark chocolate, like epicatechin, can help protect DNA from damage, which inturn reduces cancer and aging risk.
Dark Chocolate Fun Facts
- Cocoa butter one of the world's most expensive fats. Some bars of chocolate can sell for $20 or more.
- Cocoa butter is added to many beauty products in the hopes of alleviating wrinkles. Pure cocoa butter can be a cheap and effective product to protect dry skin.
- One ounce (28 grams) of dark chocolate contains 6.4mg of caffeine, which is a bit less than an espresso but a little more than most americano coffees and black teas. Here is a full list of foods high in caffeine.
- Chocolate is also the most common source of theobromine which acts as a stimulant like caffeine. Further, theobromine also helps with lowering blood pressure. Too much theobromine can be poisonous and this is one of the reasons dogs do not tolerate chocolate well.
- Fermented chocolate drinks date back to 1900 B.C.
- At the time of the Aztecs chocolate was so valuable it was sometimes used as currency.
- Chocolate and the brain: neurobiological impact of cocoa flavanols on cognition and behavior.
- Daily consumption of a dark chocolate containing flavanols and added sterol esters affects cardiovascular risk factors in a normotensive population with elevated cholesterol.
- Does chocolate reduce blood pressure? A meta-analysis
- Blood pressure is reduced and insulin sensitivity increased in glucose-intolerant, hypertensive subjects after 15 days of consuming high-polyphenol dark chocolate.
- Effect of dark chocolate on plasma epicatechin levels, DNA resistance to oxidative stress and total antioxidant activity in healthy subjects.