If you're a certified chocolate lover, then you'll be happy to know that the health benefits of dark chocolate are many. Pure chocolate comes from the cocoa plant and has many of the benefits of other dark vegetables, such as a high count of antioxidants and flavonoids.
A Beneficial Treat
Most of the benefits of chocolate come from its flavonoid content. Flavonoids are antioxidants that help the body fight free radicals and cell damage.
But not all types of chocolate offer the same level of health benefits. The more highly processed the chocolate, the less flavonoid content. As a result, dark chocolate with a high cacao content (at least 70 percent) is the way to go for maximum health benefits.
Supports Heart Health
Dark chocolate is actually very good for your heart. According to the Cleveland Clinic, dark chocolate's flavonoid content is the reason it's so beneficial to the cardiovascular system. In addition, flavanols, the main type of flavonoid found in dark chocolate, are believed to have an especially positive effect on vascular health.
Helps Insulin Sensitivity and Blood Pressure
An abstract in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition discusses a study which concluded dark chocolate reduces blood pressure and helps improve insulin sensitivity in healthy people. According to the abstract, it's believed the benefits are due to dark chocolate's flavanol content and its effect on nitric acid bioavailability and its influence on insulin stimulated glucose uptake and vascular tone.
There's good reason why you reach for a candy bar when you feel stressed. CNN Health reports that eating chocolate causes the brain to release feel-good chemicals called endorphins. Eating chocolate also releases serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain that helps produce happy feelings.
Many people are also convinced that dark chocolate is one of the best aphrodisiacs available; however, research is very limited and inconclusive.
Good Source of Minerals
Dark chocolate is chock full of beneficial minerals. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, dark chocolate that is composed of 70 - 85% cacao solids, is a great source of copper, manganese potassium and iron.
Theobromine is the chemical responsible for dark chocolate's stimulant activity. According to nutrition expert Dr. Ray Sahelian, theobromine stimulates the heart, relaxes smooth muscle and dilates blood vessels. It's also a diuretic.
In addition studies showed that women whose infants had the most theobromine content in their cord blood were least likely to develop preeclampsia, a dangerous and even life-threatening condition that causes high blood pressure and fluid retention.
Good Source of Fiber
One ounce of dark chocolate (70 - 85% cacao content) provides three grams of fiber. If you're like most people, you struggle to get enough fiber in your diet. Eating small amounts of dark chocolate can help you reach your fiber intake goal.
Science News reports that German researchers have determined in preliminary findings that dark chocolate fights skin cancer. It's believed that the flavonoids found in the chocolate help absorb ultraviolet rays which can easily burn exposed skin and contribute to the development of skin cancer.
Like all chocolate, dark chocolate has a high fat content. However, the most of the types of fat in dark chocolate are actually healthy for you. Harvard Medical School (HMS) reports that dark chocolate is made up of three fats: oleic acid, stearic acid and palmitic acid.
Oleic Acid: Dark chocolate is one third oleic acid, and this is a healthy monounsaturated fat. It's the same type of fat that is found in olive oil.
Stearic Acid: Dark chocolate is also one third stearic acid. This is a saturated fat, but it has a neutral effect on cholesterol and does not increase the risk of heart disease.
Palmitic Acid: Although palmitic acid is a saturated fat, it does not appear to increase cholesterol when eaten in the form of chocolate.
Moderation Is Key
Despite its many health benefits, dark chocolate is still high in fat and calories. If you eat too much of it, its health benefits could be outweighed by the negative effects of consuming too much fat and calories.
According to the website of natural health expert Dr. Joseph Mercola, to reap the health benefits of dark chocolate you should eat no more than 6.7 grams of dark chocolate per day. This works out to be about one small square approximately three times per week.
Few of the health benefits of dark chocolate are the same for milk chocolate or white chocolate. These chocolates are highly processed and have other ingredients that often cancel out the benefits.
For maximum health benefits, look for pure dark chocolate with 70 - 85 percent cacao content. But avoid dark chocolate with added ingredients such as nougats, caramel or other fillings. As delicious as they are, the additional calories, fat and refined sugars will quickly outweigh any benefits of the dark chocolate.
A Healthy Indulgence
When eaten in moderation, the health benefits of dark chocolate are impressive. Thanks to recent research, you can indulge in a small amount of dark chocolate each day without guilt. However, before using dark chocolate to treat or prevent any medical condition, please consult your physician.