Today I have some great news for all chocolate lovers out there! Next to its awesome taste, dark chocolate provides powerful health benefits, especially if you suffer from cardiovascular diseases.
Always opt for dark, raw, chocolate with the highest cacao content (at least 70%). So I’m not talking about milk or white chocolate. Those are definitely not considered a health food and contain way too much added sugar.
1. Dark Chocolate Is Very Nutritious
Quality dark chocolate is packed with a wide range of healthy nutrients our body needs to function properly. It contains fiber, iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, potassium, zinc, selenium, and phosphorus.
Its fats consist out of easily digestible saturated and monounsaturated fats and only small amounts of unstable polyunsaturated fats.
Although 100 grams or 3.5 ounce of dark chocolate packs your daily dose of most of the above mentioned nutrients, it also comes with 600 calories and a small amount of sugar. So moderation is key to reap its benefits!
2. Improve Cardiovascular Health
It is quite amazing how chocolate can improve your heart health on several levels.
Reduce blood pressure: flavanols, magnesium, and copper in dark chocolate can improve blood flow, make blood vessels more flexible, and help to regulate blood pressure and heartbeat.
Lowers cholesterol: studies show that dark chocolate can reduce oxidized LDL cholesterol levels up to 10-12%. Oxidized cholesterol means that it has reacted with free radicals to form highly reactive and damaging molecules. Dark chocolate is packed with antioxidants that neutralize free radicals.
Overall heart health: not only will dark chocolate help you to reduce bad cholesterol and improve blood pressure, it also can reduce inflammation of cardiovascular tissue. Studies show that cacao or dark chocolate can reduce the risk of cardiovascular deaths by a whopping 50% and calcified plaques by 32% if consumed at least twice a week.
Although most studies look very promising, there is still more research needed in this field.
3. Antioxidant Powerhouse
Raw unprocessed cacao beans are amongst the most antioxidant-rich foods on earth according to the ORAC measuring. Dark chocolate is loaded with polyphenols, flavanols, catechins, and many more biologically active compounds that act as powerful antioxidants to protect your body against highly reactive free radicals.
Free radicals have been linked to DNA damage and diseases like Alzheimer’s, premature aging, UV-skin damage, heart diseases, and cancer.
4. Boost Your Mood, Reduce Stress, And Cure Depression
Eating dark chocolate raises the levels of feel good-hormones (endorphin and serotonin) that lift our spirit, boost our mood, and promote a sense of well-being. In addition to raising our happy hormones, chocolate also contains theobromine, which is a stimulant similar to caffeine.
5. Block Feelings Of Pain
Chocolate contains anandamide, a neurotransmitter known to block feelings of pain and like mentioned above it also raises calming and pain relieving endorphins.
6. Boost Brain Function
Chocolate’s flavanols improve the blood flow to our brain and its caffeine-like compound helps to create more focus and improve short-term memory.
7. Lower Insulin Resistance
The flavonoids help your body to use insulin more efficiently. It also has a low glycemic index, which means it won’t spike blood sugar levels as much as your regular candy bar or other sweet sugary treats.
FYI: Cocoa vs Cacao, What’s The difference?
This is something that confused me in the past. So I thought I’d clear things up for you.
Raw cacao or raw chocolate is made through cold-pressing unroasted cacao beans. During this process the fat is removed and it keeps living enzymes and other phytonutrients intact.
Cocoa or cocoa powder, on the other hand, is made through roasting raw cacao beans at high temperatures. This process, unfortunately, lowers the overall nutrient value and destroys most of the beneficial enzymes.
Raw cacao has a bitter taste, which I like a lot! If you’re not a huge fan of raw dark chocolate you could opt for high quality cocoa, which is less bitter, but still contains many of the above mentioned health benefits.
Take Home Message
Raw cacao is best as it still contains all its nutrients. Always opt for high quality dark chocolate with at least 70% cacao.
And remember, although dark chocolate contains so much wonderful benefits, due to its high calorie content and moderate amounts of sugar you should eat it in moderation to avoid adverse effects on your health.
And one last interesting fact I want to share with you…. Research shows that dairy inhibits the absorption of antioxidants from raw cacao. So if you make a shake or dessert with raw cacao or chocolate you’re better off using dairy-free milk substitutes like coconut, hazelnut or almond milk to get all the benefits of world’s antioxidant richest food source.
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Click here for a great overview of scientific articles about the benefits of regularly adding dark chocolate to your diet.