More Than A Guilty Pleasure: The Surprising Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate lovers rejoice! Beyond being a delicious treat, dark chocolate also has a few proven health benefits when enjoyed in moderation. Read on to discover these science-backed reasons to guiltlessly indulge.
A brief history
Made from the fruit of tropical cacao trees native to Central and South America, the use of chocolate can be traced back to the ancient Olmecs of southern Mexico. Olmec pots and vessels from around 1500 B.C. were found to have traces of theobromine, a compound found in chocolate. They most likely enjoyed it in the form of a bitter beverage, instead of the sweet delight we know today.
From the Mayans to the Aztecs to the, chocolate has been an integral part of many cultures throughout history. It’s thought to have made its way to the American colonies around 1641. Enjoyed by people of all classes and even handed out as rations in past wars, chocolate has been a mainstay in America for a long time.
Although the average chocolate bar of today isn’t considered healthy, dark chocolate created with high-quality ingredients and a high cocoa content is. Dark chocolate contains powerful antioxidants such as catechin, epicatechin and procyanidins.
Antioxidants help battle free radicals, which can break down cells over time. Dark chocolate actually contains more of these compounds than most other foods! One study found that cocoa powder and dark chocolate had more antioxidant activity than other fruit powders and juices that were tested.
Packed with nutrients
A nutrient-rich diet is key to battling all kinds of diseases. Dark chocolate, the kind with at least 70% to 85% of cocoa per 100 grams, contains a wide variety of valuable nutrients, which include the following percentages of recommended daily value:
- 98% manganese
- 89% copper
- 67% iron
- 58% magnesium
There is also a decent amount of potassium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium in the tasty goody, along with the heart-healthy fatty acid oleic acid. However, 100 grams also comes with about 600 calories and a moderate sugar content, so daily consumption of that amount is not recommended. In other words, like any other treat, dark chocolate should be enjoyed in moderation.
Lowers risk of heart disease
Several long-term studies have found that regular dark chocolate consumption led to lower amounts of cholesterol lodged in the arteries. Less cholesterol means less risk of heart disease. One particularly interesting study of 470 older men showed that, over 15 years, cocoa reduced the risk of death from heart disease by 50%. Keep in mind these studies were observational in nature, meaning there is a chance other factors could have played a part in reducing the risk.
Improves blood flow
One of the benefits of those helpful antioxidants, especially flavanols, in dark chocolate is improved blood flow. This can help many parts of your body such as your brain and skin. A pilot study showed that a single dose of flavanol-rich cocoa increased the cerebral blood flow to gray matter. Another study of two groups of women, one receiving a low flavanol cocoa powder drink and the other a drink with high levels of flavanol, found that the high levels of flavanol led to lower negative effects from UV rays and improved skin density and hydration due to increased blood flow to the skin.
Enjoyed regularly in moderation, high-quality dark chocolate can help your overall health. A square or two savored after a meal is enough to reap the benefits while avoiding the negative effects of the calories and sugar content.