When most of us think of healthy foods, we often think of kale, swiss chard, avocado, fish and fresh fruits.
But there’s one super food you won’t find in the fresh produce aisle section, dark chocolate.
This magical mouth watering food doesn’t just fill up your sweet tooth.
Studies show dark chocolate has an array of health benefits.
I know this may sound like a dream come true to some of us, but it’s true!
While chocolate hasn’t yet gained the status of healthy food reputation, it’s on the rise.
In moderation, chocolate— especially dark chocolate can help lower blood pressure and improve vascular function.
Dark chocolate is packed with nutrients that can positively affect your health.
I know you’re wondering what’s exactly in chocolate, particularly dark chocolate that makes it so heart healthy?
How Is Chocolate Made?
Chocolate is made using beans harvested from cocoa tree, Theobroma cacao.
In order to improve this, the beans have to be removed from their pod, fermented, dried, roasted and then grounded to produce a cocoa mass also known as cocoa liquor.
Cocoa liquor can be pressed to yield cocoa butter and cocoa cake which is grounded up into cocoa powder.
Cocoa liquor can also be combined with cocoa butter, sugar, vanilla, (and milk in milk chocolate) to make chocolate.
Chocolate liquor is then process to become cocoa solid butter to make the chocolate we know today.
What Makes Dark Chocolate Healthy?
Dark chocolate is also known as bittersweet or semisweet chocolate. It contains a high percentage of cocoa solids, more than 60% and little to no added sugar.
What should you look for in dark chocolate?
- 60% of cocoa
- Made from cocoa butter instead of fats with coconut and palm oils.
- Although cocoa butter contains a high percentage of saturated fat in the form of stearic acids, it has been shown to have a neutral effect on cholesterol.
- Made without the use of hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils that are known to negatively impact cholesterol.
- The Darker the better: Pytochemicals, like flavonoids contribute to pigment. More flavonoids means darker chocolate and potentially greater health benefits.
- Chocolate is only is as goods as the ingredients that’s in it; look for dark chocolate made from organic or fairly traded cocoa beans.
You can find a list of all fair trade certified chocolate producers at Fair Trade USA.
As a recap for when buying chocolate. The darker the better and it needs to contain at least 35% chocolate liquor, more than 60% cocoa solids, and under 27% fat content.
You also want no added sugar and Fair Trade USA or certified organic ingredients.
1. Dark Chocolate Is Super Nutritious and Healthy
Dark chocolate is considered the healthiest chocolate because if has two to four times (or more!) the amount of flavonoids than milk chocolate.
According to Yale University Prevention Research Center, dark chocolate contains a list of powerful antioxidants than most other foods such as phenolic.
Antioxidants are scientifically proven to reduce inflammation and protect the body from oxidative damage.
Another study discovered that dark chocolate containing 70% cocoa also helps increase HDL, or ‘good’ cholesterol, and even reduces abdomen fat in women.
Dark chocolate has amazing health benefits:
- Decreased risks of stroke
- Decreased risk of heart attacks
- Increased brain activity
- Preventing cancer
- Lower blood pressure
- Reduced risk for diabetes
- Increased satiety
2. A Nutritional Powerhouse or Super Food
Dark chocolate is not only delicious and tasty, but it is a nutritional powerhouse containing 44% of your daily recommend fiber and 98% of your daily recommended dose of manganese.
Here’s a full nutritional of profile of 100 gram bar of dark chocolate with 70-85% cocoa:
- 11 grams of fiber.
- 67% of the RDA for Iron.
- 58% of the RDA for Magnesium.
- 89% of the RDA for Copper.
- 98% of the RDA for Manganese.
- It also has plenty of potassium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium.
One study found that eating 100 grams (about 3.5 ounces) of dark chocolate daily has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease and stroke.
Although 3.5 ounces of chocolate is a whole lot of chocolate, despite all these health benefits— dark chocolate should be eaten in moderation. Not to mention 100 grams of dark chocolate contains about 600 calories.
3. Powerful Source of Antioxidants
Made from the seed of the cocoa tree, chocolate is one of the best sources of antioxidants available.
It contains flavonoids called procyanidins, catechins and epicatechins. Flavonoids are part of a group of antioxidants known as polyphenols and are found in a variety of foods including dark chocolate, tea, red wine, and various fruits and vegetables.
Catechins is one of the secret ingredient in green tea powder, and a type of disease-fight flavonoid and antioxidants are the keys to "tea’s health benefits”.
You can learn about the green tea health benefits.
One study showed that cocoa in dark chocolate contains more antioxidant activity, polyphenols and flavanols than other fruits they tested, which included blueberries and Acai berries.
Dark chocolate in moderation is super nutritious and healthy for you— this is part of the reason why it is included in the Healing Foods Pyramid as part of a balanced, whole foods, plant-based diet.
The Healing Food Pyramid emphasizes foods that nourish the body, sustain energy overtime, contain healing qualities and essential nutrients, and support a sustainable environment.
The recommend amount of dark chocolate per week is up to 7 ounces, average 1 ounce per day!
4. Better Sex
Yes, chocolate and sex—there is a positive correlation.
Chocolate contains this amino acids called l-arginine, which works as a natural sex enhancer for both men and women. The way it works is that it increases blood flow to your sexual organs, which fosters and improves sensation, satisfaction, and more desire for sex.
Dark chocolate also contains phenylethylamine, a chemical known to create the feelings of being in love.
I was also surprised to find other healthy foods that can also give a healthy sexual appetite.
Pair chocolate with fig and almonds for some serious libido boosting desert.
5. Weight Management
No, I don’t mean you should go indulge in dark chocolate, as I mentioned earlier, 100 grams (3.5 ounces of dark chocolate) contains 600 calories.
So eating chocolate bars without a reasonable limitation can backfire your weight loss.
But dark chocolate is healthy enough that it can be part of your weight loss plan which might make it easier and aid in helping you stick to your healthy eating plan.
Firstly, a study that compared the effects between eating white and dark chocolate found that participants who ate the dark chocolate experienced lower blood sugar levels.
The researchers aren’t sure why but they think dark chocolate’s antioxidants may help the body use insulin more efficiently to control blood sugar, which naturally lowers blood sugar levels.
Dr. Oz claims that learning how to stabilize your blood sugar is the key to help you lose weight and keep it off.
Secondly, a little treat can help you stick to your weight loss goals and lose weight, by tricking your mind to thinking you’re not actually on a diet plan.
You already know what happens when you tell yourself you can’t have something, get obsessed about it and then binge on everything in sight.
You don’t want to completely band sweets from your diet; it will only make losing weight miserable.
By allowing yourself a little of what you want, you’ll keep the cravings under control.
6. Heart Healthy
Dark chocolate has been shown to protect and keep the heart strong and healthy.
The compounds in dark chocolate are proven to be highly effective at decreasing the bad cholesterol or LDL.
In the longterm, this should keep your arteries unclogged, and we should see a lower risk of heart disease over the long term.
According to German researchers, around 1 square a day should be enough.
They studied over 19,000 people within a ten year period and found that those who ate the most chocolate (7.5 grams per day) had much lower blood pressure and a 39% lower risk of having a heart attack or stroke compared to those who ate the least amount (1.7 grams a day).
In another study that tracked 470 elderly men for over 15 years, regular cocoa consumption was found to reduce the risk of cardiovascular death by 50%.
A third study revealed that eating dark chocolate 2 or more times per week lowers the risk of having calcified plaque in the arteries by 32%.
Those who ate chocolate less frequently had no effect.
7. Skin Protection Against the Sun
Researches are finding that the bioactive in dark chocolate may be able to help protect your skin against the sun.
This is great news for those who like to layout in the sun’s for extra dose of "vitamin D".
Dark chocolate has been shown to protect against UV rays, increased blood flood to the skin and improve skin hydration.
One study demonstrated that regularly eating chocolate rich in flavanols offers significant sun protection and can protect you from harmful UV effects; while regular milk chocolate had no effect.
8. Brain Function
Researches at Harvard have found that the compounds in dark chocolate, called cocoa flavanols, have been linked to better thinking skills.
According their study, Italian researchers tested the effect of cocoa flavanols in 90 healthy adults between the age of 61 to 81 whose memories and thinking skills were in pretty good shape for their ages.
Participants were asked to drink a special brew of cocoa flavanols each day.
One group’s brew contained a low amount of cocoa flavanols ( 48 milligrams [mg] a day), and another contained a medium amount ( 520 mg), and the third one contained a high amount (993 mg).
After eight weeks, the participants who consumed medium to high amount of cocoa flavanols every day made significant improvements on tests that measured attention, executive function and memory.
The powerful antioxidants power of dark chocolate protects the brain from oxidative stress and aging.
According to an article published on LiveStrong.com, the caffeine content in dark chocolate may also be useful in relieving migraines and headache.
I you are like me, you probably feel somewhat awesome after eating dark chocolate— but now there’s science behind it too.
These sweet desires are not just your imagination. Researches have found that eating chocolate, which is probably the most craved food by American women causes the brain to release endorphins, a happy chemical that makes us feel good.
Unsweetened or semisweet dark chocolate has been shown to be the most effective type of chocolate when it comes to reducing stress and anxiety levels.
The phenylethylamine (that same chemical that makes you feel in love) also encourages your brain to release endorphins, making you feel happier.
Endorphins even possess morphine like effects, which help to block out pain.
Although caffeine in chocolate contains nowhere near the same amount of caffeine found in coffee, it's shown to be a mild stimulant which can further boost the mood.
So next time you need a bit of emotional lift-me-up, try doubling up your happiness by enjoying a piece of delicious dark chocolate.
Though I love some dark chocolate myself and could definitely benefit of antioxidants in chocolate, chocolate is not the only food with powerful nutrients like antioxidants.
You can get antioxidants from fruits like raspberries, strawberries and blueberries as well as super healthy foods like kale and sweet potatoes.
They all have powerful antioxidants that will make you more healthy and strong.
You can also combine eating dark chocolate with berries for even more incredible health benefits.
In the mood for good dark chocolate? Check out a few dark chocolate recipes here.