I’m sure that, by now, you’ve already heard about some of the benefits of dark chocolate. I’ve put together a list with some of the most impressive health benefits and the effect dark chocolate has on our body and on our health. Dark chocolate is made from cocoa or cacao, is loaded with powerful antioxidants, and it is relatively low in sugar. For that reason, it is a healthier alternative to other types of chocolate.
I always believed that cocoa and cacao are the same thing, but there is a significant difference between them. They come from the same place, but the processing makes all the difference. They both start as seed pods, but later in the process cocoa is heated at much higher temperatures. Raw cacao is made from cold-pressed unroasted cocoa beans, and therefore has more nutrients and health benefits, while cocoa powder is raw cacao that has been roasted at high temperatures. Some of the nutritional components and antioxidants are lost during this process, therefore cocoa is cheaper and easier to find than cacao. That doesn’t mean that cocoa is bad for you, it’s just that cacao has more benefits for your health.
If you make the right, healthy choice, you can have chocolate without guilt. Avoid the processed, highly sweetened chocolate and treat yourself with a little square of high-cocoa, polyphenol-rich dark chocolate. The best dark chocolate to choose is the one with at least 70% cocoa content. It contains the most powerful antioxidants and it provides the most benefits of dark chocolate. Keep in mind that because of the high cocoa content, dark chocolate has a richer flavor and more health benefits than the milk chocolate or white chocolate, which are more processed.
There are so many reasons that make this bitter sweet delight nearly guilt-free!
1. First of all, it is a powerful source of antioxidants (polyphenols, flavonols, catechins) – more than most other foods, such as wine, blueberries, tea, and acai. Antioxidants inhibit oxidation and protect the body from the damage caused by free-radicals. Free radicals may be a cause of cancer and they are often related to the aging process.
2. Dark chocolate improves the blood flow in the arteries, lowers blood pressure, and it may even prevent the formation of blood clots.
3. It is especially protective against cardiovascular disease. It lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease in two ways: it protects against the oxidation of LDL- bad cholesterol (which in turn cause much less cholesterol to settle in the arteries), and increases the HDL (good cholesterol) that, as it cruises the bloodstream, removes the harmful, bad cholesterol from where it doesn’t belong. A study revealed that cocoa reduced the risk of cardiovascular death by 50% over a 15 year period. Consuming dark chocolate 2 to 5 times per week lowered the risk of having calcified plaque in the arteries, and so lowered the risk of cardiovascular disease.
4. The flavonols in dark chocolate protect the skin against the harmful effect of sun exposure, improving blood flow and increasing skin density and hydration.
5. Dark chocolate may improve the function of the brain by increasing the blood flow to the brain. It may significantly improve cognitive function and verbal fluency in elderly people. Dark chocolate also contains phenylethylamine (PEA) – “the love drug” – the same chemical your brain releases when you feel you are falling in love. It helps stimulates the production of endorphins, and it increases the dopamine. It also increases your mood, diminishes your anxiety, and it can make you feel happier. Because of the stimulants like caffeine and theobromine, cocoa can also improve brain function in the short term.
6. It is very nutritious – it contains fibers, Manganese, Copper, Magnesium, and Iron.
Make sure you choose dark, good quality chocolate made from organic or fairly traded cocoa beans, with at least 70% cocoa content and the least amount of sugar to take advantage of the most benefits of this superfood that’s truly a joy to savor. It will boost your heart and brain health, improve your mood, and make you feel happier.
So every time you have something to celebrate, reward yourself with a little square of luxurious, smooth, bittersweet dark chocolate.
Do not overindulge in dark chocolate. If you are sensitive to caffeine, try to avoid it. Dark chocolate can cause acne, headaches, irritability, bloating, constipation, or sleep disturbance.