Mmm, rich, luscious, creamy chocolate! I know—I’ve probably got you longing for a square of your favorite chocolate right now.
Would it surprise you that chocolate has not always evoked this response? Prior to a couple hundred years ago, cacao — the primary ingredient in chocolate — was chiefly prized for its medicinal properties. Then, as chocolate grew in popularity and availability, people began enjoying it as a food. In recent years, science and the medical community are coming back around to explore the amazing health benefits of chocolate.
But not just any chocolate will do. When it comes to the health benefits of chocolate, bitter is better. Cacao in its purest form is bitter and cacao is what offers all the great health payoffs. So, if you want to experience these health benefits, you’ll have to reach for dark chocolate with 70% or higher levels of cacao.
What Makes Dark Chocolate so Healthy?
Dark chocolate (70% or higher cacao) now ranks among the “Superfoods.” In fact, dark chocolate boasts some of the highest levels of antioxidants of any food—even higher than blueberries, cranberries and acai berries. These antioxidants in the form of flavanols perform important health-giving work in our bodies—yet another reason to enjoy chocolate.
Dark chocolate also contains high amounts of:
Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate
Actually, all the health benefits of dark chocolate are too numerous to list in this article. But as we look at those listed below, it may not be far-fetched to imagine a doctor prescribing, “Eat two squares of dark chocolate per day and see me in three weeks.”
Lowers risk of heart attack and stroke.
A few years ago, researchers created an elaborate study seeking to demonstrate the harmful effects of chocolate on the human body. Imagine their surprise when they discovered the opposite to be true! The magnesium and flavanols found in dark chocolate improve the cardiovascular system by keeping blood vessels open and regulating the heart rate.
Assists type 2 diabetes sufferers.
This particular benefit sounds too good to be true! But the cacao in dark chocolate enhances sensitivity to insulin and helps lower blood sugar levels. As a result, dark chocolate may lower one’s risk for type 2 diabetes. Also, with type 2 diabetes, managing blood sugar levels is what it’s all about and dark chocolate in moderation can help achieve this.
Lowers blood pressure.
Chronic high blood pressure plays havoc on the whole body and can lead to cardiovascular disease, stroke, and dementia. Once again, it’s the flavanols and magnesium in dark chocolate that improve vascular function and help lower blood pressure.
Improves brain function.
Having trouble concentrating? Dark chocolate has been shown to increase blood flow to the brain, decrease inflammation and provide important minerals that help ward off dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. By the way, don’t worry about the fats in dark chocolate—mostly mono-unsaturated and saturated. But stick to the dark chocolate and consume it in moderation.
Helps prevent and stop asthma attacks.
If you or someone you know suffers from asthma, chocolate might just help. Dark chocolate contains three natural components: caffeine, theobromine and theophylline, all of which work together to halt bronchospasms and open constricted bronchial passages. These ingredients also enable dark chocolate to work as a cough-suppressant.
Fights tooth decay.
Do want to protect your pearly whites? The theobromine in dark chocolate is also known to harden tooth enamel, thus warding off cavities. The higher the percentage of cacao the better, because chocolate with lower cacao percentages also have more sugar, which does promote decay.
Protects the skin against the sun’s UV rays.
If you’re planning to take a vacation in the sun, you may want to build up UV resistance beforehand with dark chocolate. Don’t worry, you eat it, rather than smear it on your body! A study involving two groups of women demonstrated that long-term consumption of dark chocolate helped protect their skin from the sun’s rays, improve blood-flow to the skin, and aided hydration. Dark chocolate’s flavanols have also been shown to improve overall skin health by reducing stress hormones that breakdown collagen in the skin.
Increases amorous desires.
The movie, Chocolat, starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp, played on the ability of chocolate to ignite latent passions. Cacao has long been used as an aphrodisiac due to the compounds it contains that send a “feel-good” message to the brain. Dark chocolate helps one de-stress, relax, and produce higher levels of energy. Maybe the gift of chocolates on Valentine’s Day is more than mere custom.
How Much Dark Chocolate Should I Eat?
The danger in reading an article like this is thinking that it gives us permission to indulge in chocolate to our heart’s content! Also, we often assume that if little is good, more is better. But as with many things in life, the “more-is-better” rule does not hold true with chocolate.
There are no established “dosages” for dark chocolate. Enjoy it in moderation, perhaps an ounce a few times per week. Remember, the higher the cacao percent, the better (at least 70%). Also, never replace healthy foods (like fruits and vegetables) with chocolate.
Well, there’s 8 unconventional reasons to treat yourself to dark chocolate—something delightfully healthy. But be sure to sit down, relax, and enjoy your chocolate with someone you love.
It’s always best to make your own meal at home — even when it comes to dessert! Try this Dark Chocolate Pistachio Bark recipe and remember: everything in moderation.