Dark chocolate is loaded with nutrients that can positively affect your health. Made from the seed of the cacao tree, it’s one of the best sources of antioxidants you can find. Studies show that dark chocolate can improve your health and lower the risk of heart disease.
Here are 7 health benefits of dark chocolate or cocoa that are supported by science.
If you buy quality dark chocolate with a high cocoa content, then it’s quite nutritious.
It contains a decent amount of soluble fiber and is loaded with minerals.
A 100-gram bar of dark chocolate with 70–85% cocoa contains:
1. 11 grams of fiber
2. 66% of the DV for iron
3. 57% of the DV for magnesium
4. 196% of the DV for copper
5. 85% of the DV for manganese
In addition, it has plenty of potassium, phosphorus, zinc, and selenium.
Of course, 100 grams (3.5 ounces) is a fairly large amount and not something you should be consuming daily. These nutrients also come with 600 calories and moderate amounts of sugar.
For this reason, dark chocolate is best consumed in moderation.
The fatty acid profile of cocoa and dark chocolate is also good. The fats consist mostly 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 the total fat calories.
Dark chocolate also contains stimulants like caffeine and theobromine, but it’s unlikely to keep you awake at night, as the amount of caffeine is very small compared with coffee.
Quality dark chocolate is rich in fiber, iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, and a few other minerals.
2. May improve blood flow and lower blood pressure
The flavonoids in dark chocolate can stimulate the endothelium, the lining of arteries, to produce nitric oxide (NO).
One of the functions of NO is to send signals to the arteries to relax, which lowers the resistance to blood flow and therefore reduces blood pressure.
Many controlled studies show that cocoa and dark chocolate can improve blood flow and lower blood pressure, though the effects are usually mild.
However, one study in people with type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure showed no effect, so take this with a grain of salt. It’s possible that people who are already receiving treatment for the high blood pressure may not get any additional benefit from adding cocoa flavanols to their diet.
Given the great variation between studies on this subject, it’s clear that more research is needed.
The bioactive compounds in cocoa may improve blood flow in the arteries and cause a small but statistically significant decrease in blood pressure.
3. May reduce heart disease risk
The compounds in dark chocolate appear to be highly protective against the oxidation of LDL.
In the long term, this should cause much less cholesterol to lodge in the arteries, resulting in a lower risk of heart disease.
In fact, research shows a fairly drastic improvement.
Over time, a number of studies have shown that consuming flavanol-rich cocoa or chocolate can lower blood pressure and improve cardiovascular health.
A review of studies revealed that eating chocolate 3 times per week lowered the risk of cardiovascular disease by 9%. Eating chocolate more often showed little additional benefit.
Another review suggested that eating 45 grams of chocolate per week lowers cardiovascular disease risk by 11%. Consuming more than 100 grams per week does not appear to produce health benefits.
A 2017 clinical trial found that subjects who consumed almonds with or without dark chocolate showed improved LDL cholesterol levels.
Although all of these findings are promising, more evidence is needed to know if it was the chocolate that reduced the risk.
However, since the biological process is known (lower blood pressure and lower oxidization-prone LDL), it’s plausible that regularly eating dark chocolate may reduce the risk of heart disease.
Research shows a reduction in heart disease risk among those who consume a moderate amount of chocolate.
4. May protect your skin from the sun
The bioactive compounds in dark chocolate may also be great for your skin.
The flavonols can protect against sun damage, improve blood flow to the skin, and increase skin density and hydration.
The minimal erythemal dose (MED) is the minimum amount of UVB rays required to cause redness in the skin 24 hours after exposure.
Studies have shown that MED can increase and even double after consuming high-flavanol dark chocolate or cocoa for 12 weeks. The result is that your skin has better protection from the sun.
If you’re planning a beach vacation, consider enjoying some extra dark chocolate in the prior weeks and months. But check with your doctor or dermatologist before forgoing your normal skincare routine in favor of more dark chocolate. And remember that chocolate can’t replace sunscreen and other forms of sun protection.
Studies show that the flavanols from cocoa can improve blood flow to the skin and protect it from sun damage.
5. Could improve brain function
The good news isn’t over yet. Dark chocolate may also improve the function of your brain.
Studies show that eating high-flavanol cocoa can improve blood flow to the brain in young adults. This may explain why eating cocoa daily appears to improve attention, verbal learning, and memory.
Cocoa flavonoids may also help maintain cognitive function in older adults with mild cognitive impairment and reduce the chance of progressing to dementia. But more research is needed.
Additionally, cocoa contains stimulant substances like caffeine and theobromine, which may be a key reason why it can improve brain function in the short term.
Cocoa or dark chocolate may improve brain function by increasing blood flow. It also contains stimulants like caffeine and theobromine.
6. Raises HDL and protects LDL from oxidation
Consuming dark chocolate can improve several important risk factors for heart disease. It may protect against high cholesterol.
In a small study, eating dark chocolate supplemented with the flavanol lycopene was found to significantly decrease levels of total cholesterol, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and triglycerides.
Some forms of LDL cholesterol are more likely to oxidize, which happens if they react with free radicals in your body. Oxidation makes the LDL particle itself reactive and capable of damaging other tissues, such as the lining of the arteries in your heart.
It makes perfect sense that cocoa lowers oxidation-prone forms of LDL. It contains an abundance of powerful antioxidants that do make it into the bloodstream and protect lipoproteins against oxidative damage.
The flavanols in dark chocolate can also reduce insulin resistance, which is another common risk factor for diseases like heart disease and diabetes.
However, dark chocolate also contains sugar, which can have the opposite effect.
Dark chocolate improves several important risk factors for disease. It lowers oxidation-prone LDL and improves insulin sensitivity.
7. Powerful source of antioxidants
ORAC stands for oxygen radical absorbance capacity. It’s a measure of the antioxidant activity of foods.
Basically, researchers set a bunch of free radicals (bad) against a sample of the food and see how well the antioxidants in the food can disarm the free radicals.
Based on these studies, chocolate is considered rich in antioxidants. But the biological relevance of ORAC values is questioned, as it’s measured in a test tube and may not have the same effect in the body.
Research in humans does not always show the same range of antioxidant effects for chocolate. But experts say there isn’t enough evidence yet to say for certain.
Dark chocolate is loaded with organic compounds that are biologically active and function as antioxidants. These include polyphenols, flavonols, and catechins, among others. According to research, the polyphenols in dark chocolate may help lower some forms of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol when combined with other foods like almonds and cocoa.
One study showed that cocoa and dark chocolate had more antioxidant activity, polyphenols, and flavanols than any other fruits tested, which included blueberries and acai berries.
Cocoa and dark chocolate have a wide variety of powerful antioxidants. In fact, they have way more than most other foods.
There is considerable evidence that cocoa can provide powerful health benefits, being especially protective against heart disease.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you should go all out and consume lots of chocolate every day. It’s still loaded with calories and easy to overeat.
Maybe have a square or two after dinner and try to savor them. If you want the benefits of cocoa without the calories in chocolate, consider making hot cocoa without any cream or sugar.
Also, note that a lot of the chocolate on the market is not nutritious.
Choose quality stuff: dark chocolate with 70% or higher cocoa content. You might want to check out this guide on how to find the best dark chocolate.
Dark chocolates typically contain some sugar, but the amounts are usually small, and the darker the chocolate, the less sugar it will contain.
Chocolate is a remarkable food that tastes awesome while providing significant health benefits.
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