Dark chocolate offers amazing health benefits like lowering blood pressure, fighting oxidative stress, improving heart health, preventing cancer, regulating cholesterol levels, improving cognition, and more. Its antioxidant-rich nature also promotes hair health and skin care.
What is Dark Chocolate?
Dark chocolate, also known as black chocolate, is made from cocoa butter instead of milk-based butter. It contains a higher level of cocoa or cacao, around 60% to 99%. Cocoa contains more phenolic antioxidants than most foods and it is the high cocoa content in this chocolate that makes it a superior antioxidant. The more the cocoa content in chocolate, the richer and bittersweet it becomes in taste. The dry and semisweet taste of this chocolate is attributed to the lack of milk solids in it. Instead, it contains vanilla and some other emulsifiers like soy lecithin to preserve its uniqueness in flavor and texture.
Types of Dark Chocolate
The healthiest dark chocolate contains a cocoa percentage of 70% or higher. Lets take a look at its various types:
Unsweetened chocolate: This is the purest form of dark chocolate, containing anywhere from 85-100% cocoa beans. It may be too bitter for most people to eat. It is also known as bakers chocolate and it adds a rich chocolate flavor to cakes and cookies.
Bittersweet chocolate: It has 65-80% cocoa beans and about 33% sugar. This may be the best dark chocolate to snack on, as it is not too bitter to taste and has a high cocoa percentage.
Semisweet chocolate: This kind of dark chocolate is a sweeter version, with about 35-60% cocoa and 50% sugar. It is less healthy but has a sweet taste.
Dutch processed dark chocolate: This chocolate has gone through a chemical process known as dutching which causes it to change color and reduce the bitter flavor. However, during dutching, chocolate loses most of its antioxidants, making it a poor health choice.
According to the latest medical research studies, the health benefits of dark chocolate may truly boost human health and provide a variety of valuable health benefits.
Dark Chocolate Nutrition Facts
This chocolate is rich in antioxidants, such as polyphenols and flavonoids. The calories, sugar, and fat content depends on the kind of dark chocolate you choose. It is a rich source of minerals such as manganese, magnesium, iron, and copper. Other nutrient compounds found in this chocolate are phosphorus, potassium, selenium, calcium, and vitamin K, B-12, and A.
Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate
Let us discuss the many amazing benefits of dark chocolate in detail below.
Rich in Antioxidants
Dark chocolate has a significant number of phenolic antioxidants, especially when compared to other foods. A 2011 study reports the potential positive effects of cocoa antioxidants on various health aspects such as protecting nerves against injury and inflammation, shielding the skin against oxidative damage, etc.
Improves Heart Health
With 65% of polyphenol-rich cocoa in dark chocolate and other antioxidants like catechins and polyphenols, it can help reduce blood pressure and the risk of heart ailments. The consumption of dark chocolate, even in minimum amounts, keeps the arteries flexible, which prevents the risk of heart attacks and strokes and boosts cardiovascular health.
Helps Reduce Blood Pressure
Dark chocolate is rich in minerals such as magnesium and copper. These minerals aid in regulating normal blood pressure and subsequently maintaining proper heartbeat levels.
Fights Free Radicals
This chocolate contains the highest amounts of flavonoids and polyphenols, even more than wine and tea. This helps in free radical fighting and flushing out environmental toxins from the human body on a regular basis.
A 2009 paper published in the Nutrition and Cancer journal highlights the possibilities of cocoa exhibiting beneficial effects against oxidative effects and cancer risk factors. The study attributes these effects to the presence of bioactive compounds such as catechins and procyanidins. A 2016 review paper, on the basis of animal as well as human intervention studies, suggest that the flavanols and procyanidins in dark chocolate could prove helpful in reducing the risk of colon cancer when combined with a regular dietary flavonoid intake.
While further studies are required to fully explore its potential against cancer, the American Cancer Society suggests that indulging in a small quantity of dark chocolate with a minimum 70% cocoa might have some benefits.
Releases Endorphins & Improves Mood
Eating a delicious piece of chocolate can possibly reduce stress levels. It works by stimulating the production of endorphins that may give rise to a happy feeling. In addition, the dark variety of chocolate contains stimulants such as theobromine and caffeine, which are known to be major stimulants in reducing depression.
Lowers Cholesterol Levels
Dark chocolate has been observed to reduce the LDL (bad) cholesterol levels in the human body significantly, up to 10-12%, as per a study by Hamid MS, et al. Another study published in the Free Radical Biology & Medical journal showed that cocoa, a key ingredient of this chocolate, may contribute to HDL (good) cholesterol increase, and the suppression of oxidized LDL. Oxidized LDL can become reactive with surrounding tissues and increase the chance of heart attacks.
Helps Improve Cognition
Dark chocolate is considered as one of the best foods for improving brain function, which is responsible for focus and memory. The flavonol and polyphenol-rich content of cocoa help in preventing the risk of stroke and dementia among both the elderly and the young. Consuming 70% cacao is associated with better brain hyperplasticity, which is the ability to adapt to training and learn new skills.
Cocoa is said to have immunoregulatory properties, which essentially refers to its ability to exert control on the responses of the immune system. A 2017 paper animal study found that rats on a diet rich in cocoa exhibited certain immune system modifications.
While this warrants further research in the area, dark chocolate might have positive effects in this area.
Source of Iron
Chocolate is rich in several minerals, including potassium, magnesium, as well as iron. According to a review published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology, dark chocolate can supply the body with 25% of the U.S. recommended dietary allowance for males, which might contribute to the prevention of anemia.
Maintains Blood Sugar Levels
Taken in moderate quantities, dark chocolate is shown to decrease the fasting blood sugar among diabetic patients. Cocoa polyphenols also help in promoting insulin resistance and act as a vasodilator among diabetes patients.
Alleviates Depression Symptoms
The bioactive components of dark chocolate are said to have positive effects on the brain. A 2012 study on the effect of dark chocolate consumption on depression, anxiety and life quality of cancer patients observed that it could significantly reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression. The paper notes that dark chocolate consumption might improve the overall life quality.
Reduces Risk of Stroke
Eating dark chocolate not only relaxes the body but also makes the blood vessels more flexible. It also boosts the functioning of the endothelial cells that line the blood cells. It also decreases the risk of developing innumerable cardiovascular diseases and prevents strokes.
The bioactive compounds and flavonols in this chocolate also help in increasing skin hydration, preventing sun damage, and improving blood flow to the skin.
Possessing its amazing anti-inflammatory properties and by increasing the blood flow to the hair, this chocolate can promote hair growth, prevent infections of the scalp, and prevent hair loss.
By increasing the metabolic rate of your body, dark chocolate helps in elevating your energy level and thereby boost endurance.
On account of better blood flow to the brain, dark chocolate also helps in improving the vision.
Dark chocolate has amazing anti-inflammatory properties and therefore helps in reducing inflammation in the gut and heart tissue.
Beneficial during Pregnancy
Dark chocolate in moderation is beneficial for women who are pregnant, as it helps in preventing conditions like preeclampsia, reduces the strain on the muscles and helps you feel relaxed, and boosts overall immunity in the body.
Reduces Asthma Symptoms
The presence of theobromine in cocoa makes dark chocolate an efficient remedy to cure coughs and prevent symptoms of asthma. Unlike other cough medicines, theobromine doesnt cause drowsiness.
By decreasing fat absorption in the body, dark chocolate can help in treating the symptoms of obesity and thereby result in weight loss. Also, eating a small piece of this chocolate may help you keep your sweet cravings in check and allow you to maintain your weight loss regimen.
Side effects of Dark Chocolate
Although dark chocolate has some amazing health benefits, overconsumption of anything can result in side effects, even if its a miracle food. The major side effects of this variety of chocolate include the following:
High caffeine: Dark chocolate has more caffeine than any other type of chocolate. Consuming it in high quantities may cause anxiety, diarrhea, nervousness, and dehydration.
High cocoa: The high cocoa content in this variety of chocolate, if consumed in excess, can cause various health ailments like skin conditions, constipation, and migraine headaches. It can also cause nausea and gas.
Pregnancy: Overconsumption of this chocolate in pregnant women is strictly prohibited, as it may cause premature delivery, miscarriage, and low birth weight.
Other side effects of dark chocolate include the following:
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
High blood pressure