Dark chocolate, also known as ‘black chocolate’, is made from the roasted cocoa beans of the cacao tree, fat and sugar. Unlike milk chocolate, dark chocolate has no milk or much less. It is also less sweet in taste. In fact, the best quality dark chocolate—with cocoa percentages ranging from 70 to 99 percent—has a bitter sweet taste.
As dark chocolate feels decadent and tastes great, many people love it. You can enjoy it as a piece of candy or add it to smoothies or homemade cakes and muffins. Dark chocolate can be a healthy treat, as long as you choose wisely and eat it in moderation.
Made from the seed of the cacao tree, it is one of the best sources of antioxidants on the planet. Other healthy nutrients in dark chocolate are soluble fiber, potassium, manganese, zinc, selenium, copper, magnesium and iron.
Along with these nutrients, dark chocolate also comes with some calories and moderate amounts of sugar. But when eaten in moderation, dark chocolate can positively affect your health. Several studies from different parts of the world have confirmed the health benefits of dark chocolate.
Here are the top 10 health benefits of dark chocolate.
1. Relieves Stress
To relieve stress or lift a low mood, you can always rely on dark chocolate. It helps increase the levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin that acts as a natural antidepressant.
Research done by scientists from the Nestle Research Center in Switzerland and published online in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Proteome Research confirmed that the chemical compounds in dark chocolate play a key role in improving the disposition of people who experience higher levels of stress.
They found that eating about 1.4 ounces of dark chocolate daily for two weeks can reduce levels of stress hormones in people feeling highly stressed.
Plus, dark chocolate has magnesium that helps fight stress, fatigue, depression and irritability. When eating chocolate to fight stress, make sure it has more than 85 percent cocoa.
2. Lowers Cholesterol Level
The cocoa in dark chocolate has been shown to reduce LDL or low-density lipoprotein (the bad cholesterol)level in the blood that can clog the veins and inner walls of the arteries and inhibit proper functioning.
The powerful antioxidants in dark chocolate also prevent the oxidization of LDL, in turn reducing the risk of heart attacks or strokes.
Evidence from clinical studies also shows that cocoa may increase the HDL or high-density lipoprotein (the good cholesterol) level. It is unclear whether this is due to the presence of flavonoids or theobromine in cocoa.
Low LDL and high HDL levels can reduce the risk of cardiac disease, in particular coronary atherosclerosis and heart attacks.
3. Reduces Blood Pressure
Dark chocolate can also reduce high blood pressure. Flavanol, a flavonoid present in cocoa, helps lower blood pressure and improve blood flow to your heart.
The flavanol in dark chocolate stimulates the endothelium, the lining of arteries, to produce nitric oxide. Nitric oxide sends signals to the arteries to relax, which lowers resistance to blood flow and thus reduces blood pressure.
With lower blood pressure, there is also less chance of suffering from many types of heart diseases like heart failure, atrial fibrillation and atherosclerosis. It can even reduce the risk of cognitive decline, dementia and stroke.
Simply eat a small piece of dark chocolate daily to lower your blood pressure. Be sure to choose dark chocolate that is at least 70 percent cocoa.
4. Backents Stroke
Eating dark chocolate in moderation regularly can even lower the chance of stroke in later life. This is due to its high level of flavonoids, a type of antioxidant. Flavonoids can reduce blood stickiness and prevent blood clotting, which in turn helps stave off heart attacks and strokes.
Researchers at Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute studied more than 37,000 men between the ages of 45 and 79 for about 10 years. They found that those who ate about 2.2 ounces per week had a 17 percent lower risk of having a stroke during that time period compared to those who ate little or no chocolate.
To improve blood flow in the brain and cut the risk of stroke, eat a single bar of dark chocolate once a week.
5. Boosts Brain Power
Dark chocolate also improves brain function. According to a study done at University of Nottingham, consuming dark chocolate can boost blood flow in the brain for up to three hours. This, in turn, improves short-term memory and general alertness levels for short periods.
Plus, the high amount of flavanol found in dark chocolate also improves brain function for people fighting sleep deprivation, and even slow the effects of aging by increasing circulation.
Plus, the cocoa in dark chocolate improves concentration, response time and memory recall.
6. Aids Weight Loss
One ounce of dark chocolate with between 70 and 85 percent cocoa three times a week can help you lose extra body weight. It is rich in fiber, which helps keep you feeling full for a longer time period.
According to research conducted at the University of Copenhagen, eating dark chocolate in moderation gives you a more filling effect and lessens your cravings for fatty, sweet and salty foods.
Also, being rich in antioxidants, dark chocolate can slow down digestion so you feel full longer and eat less at your next meal. It can even revive your metabolism to burn more fat and calories.
7. Keeps Skin Healthy
Moderate amounts of dark chocolate in your diet can also help keep your skin healthy, glowing and flawless. The several antioxidants in dark chocolate protect the skin from free radical damage, which causes oxidative damage to cells. Free radicals can speed up the aging process.
The flavonoids in dark chocolate protect your skin against the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays, one of the main causes of conditions like sunburn and skin cancer.
Plus, the cocoa extract present in dark chocolate helps reduce skin roughness and scaling as well as improves the skin’s hydration and complexion.
8. Heals Persistent Coughing
If you are coughing a lot and want an easy solution, try dark chocolate. It contains a chemical known as theobromine that helps curb coughing by relaxing the nerve that triggers coughs.
Researchers from the British National Health Service gave theobromine twice daily for two weeks to 300 patients hospitalized for chronic cough. They found that 60 percent of the people taking this compound got relief from cough. Another study done at Imperial College in London had similar findings.
Also, dark chocolate caused no adverse effects and the cardiovascular and central nervous systems were not affected. Unlike over-the-counter cough medicines, dark chocolate will not make you drowsy. So, the next time you have a cough, have some dark chocolate.
9. Treats Diarrhea
Scientists at Children’s Hospital & Research Institute in Oakland have confirmed that dark chocolate can ease diarrhea symptoms. Cocoa beans contain a large amount of chemicals called flavonoids that bind to and inhibit the protein in the intestines called CFTR, which regulates fluid secretion in the small intestine. This results in quick relief from diarrhea symptoms.
The next time you suffer from diarrhea, eat some dark chocolate with high cocoa content. The more flavonoids a dark chocolate contains, the quicker the remedy will work.
10. Controls Blood Sugar
The cocoa in dark chocolate can also help prevent diabetes. A small Italian study done in 2005 found that regular consumption of dark chocolate increases insulin sensitivity, thereby reducing risk for diabetes.
The flavonoids present in dark chocolate increase nitric oxide production, which helps reduce insulin resistance and helps your body use the insulin efficiently.
Also, dark chocolate can help control blood sugar levels among people who are diabetic. It ranks low on the glycemic index, which means it will not spike your sugar levels. However, for diabetics it is recommended to eat sugar-free dark chocolate, which can be easily found in the market.
Despite these health benefits of dark chocolate, you must not consume lots of it every day. It is still loaded with calories, which can have adverse effects on your health. When it comes to dark chocolate, moderation is key. Also, you need to eat high quality and organic dark chocolate with 70 percent or higher cocoa content.