The Vibrant Health Benefits Of Dark Chocolate
January 18th, 2022 / Lifestyle Medicine & Nutrition
Of all the things to do that are good for your health, of all the super foods, of all the healthy habits, eating dark chocolate must be one of the most enjoyable. Dark chocolate, made from cocoa beans with at least 70% cacao, is low in sugar, contains fiber and minerals, and brimming with powerful phytonutrients. Ounce for ounce, it contains more antioxidant-rich polyphenols than almost any other food, and unlike other foods we often consider to be “decadent,” dark chocolate, or cocoa, strengthens the heart, reduces inflammation, increases insulin sensitivity, and protects against oxidative damage. It can help you feel full, so you eat less. It can help you avoid weight gain, if you don’t overeat it. It’s good for your brain, increasing cognitive function and boosting mood. Yes, it has a lot of fat and sone sugar, but overall, researchers have generally concluded that “the benefits of moderate cocoa or dark chocolate consumption likely outweigh the risks.”
If you already enjoy dark chocolate regularly, I’m happy to reinforce this healthy habit for you. If you don’t eat chocolate because you think it isn’t good for you, I’m happy to reassure you that it is. You probably don’t need any more encouragement to add some dark chocolate into your diet, but let’s break down the benefits:
- Arterial health: The flavonoids in dark chocolate improve the quality of the endothelium, which is the lining of blood vessels, including those going to your heart. One study of 21 healthy adults showed that those eating high-flavonoid dark chocolate significantly improved endothelial flexibility and blood flow.
- Heart health: The bioactive compounds in dark chocolate reduce arterial stiffness in women, which could mean less chance of a heart attack.
- Blood pressure: Flavanol-rich dark chocolate significantly reduced systolic blood pressure, a heart disease risk factor that tends to rise with age, especially in women after menopause.
- Brain health: Two different studies showed that dark chocolate with at least 70% cacao measurably reduced stress levels and inflammation while improving mood and memory. Research has also demonstrated that cocoa flavanols increase the released of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), increasing the production of new neurons, improving the health and survival of already existing neurons, and increasing blood flow to the brain.
- Cholesterol: Dark chocolate can increase HDL (“good”) cholesterol and may keep LDL (“bad”) cholesterol from its damaging actions caused by oxidation, since it lowers oxidized LDL through its antioxidant actions.
As you can see, dark chocolate need not be a guilty pleasure. It can simply be a pleasure. Just one caveat: While chocolate is indeed healthful in many ways, more is not better. Chocolate does contain sugar and is calorie-dense, so while an ounce of 70% or higher dark chocolate is a fine habit, eating more than that could interfere with your energy balance. If you’re trying to maintain or lose weight, especially as you get older, enjoy chocolate like French women do—slowly savor every bite of that luscious ounce, and then move on with your day.
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