Think of dark chocolate as a perfectly good excuse to indulge every now and then without the need to overthink about bad consequences for as long as you don’t overeat (as with everything else).
The benefits that dark chocolate can bring are greatly dependant on the type of chocolate, quantity eaten and amount of cacao content, reason why to qualify as ”dark chocolate” we shall think of it as higher than 70% cacao. The processing of the product is crucial as the cacao fats can be destroyed, which affects its benefits greatly, so always try to pick up a good quality chocolate that whose brand promises
- Helps with maintaining a healthy cholesterol profile: this is mainly due to the nourishing effect of the content of its cocoa butter and polyphenols that get to act as antioxidants in the body. A study in 2008 looked at the effects of chocolate consumption on 28 individuals and observed how after only 1 week of dark chocolate consumption, the individuals showed an improved lipid profile, lower inflammation and decreased platelet reactivity which translates into cardio-protective effects of the chocolate. The importance of this research stood out as it was based on an even larger study.
Another review back in 2010 looked at how intake of flavonoids showed it reduced the LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol (which both are risk factors for heart disease especially when together with poor levels of nitric oxide).
- Great for heart health: as mentioned above, thanks to its contents in flavonoid found in chocolate, flavonols, were associated with an improved heart health – as these reduce blood pressure and improve blood flow as well as preventing blood clotting.
A randomised control trial in 2009 looked at the difference between consuming white chocolate and dark chocolate (which contains flavonols) and found how the flavonoid rich chocolate proved significantly better results in better blood flow in adults, meanwhile the white chocolate had no impact in any of the health parameters.
A newer review from 2015 that followed the health of 20.000 people for 11 years, concluded that higher intake of dark chocolate was associated with lower risk of heart disease when compared to those that did not consume dark chocolate at all.
- Potential cancer preventer: this is again thanks to the flavonoids and antioxidants found in dark chocolate that have been proven to be beneficial especially against colon cancer. One study (on animals) found that a diet including dark chocolate can reduce growth and proliferation of cancerous cells in rats.
Another review in 2016 has found that the cacao content of dark chocolate has a potential preventive effect against colorectal cancer as it decreases oxidative stress, reduces inflammation and blocks the cells of cancer growth and its proliferation.
- Fights off free radicals, hence prevents chronic disease: an amazing property of dark chocolate is its ability to fight off free radicals (created by cellular processes in the body that cause inflammation and chronic disease). Antioxidants are believed to neutralise the effect of free radicals, hence protecting the body from disease and damage.
Dark chocolate is known to be filled with antioxidants, as we talked above, some are known as flavonoids, other are polyphenols – greater than wine or tea (study here).
This is why is important to choose a darker chocolate – the darkest the better as all the good nutrients are found in cacao – so the highest content of cacao, the better.
- Improves cognitive function: this is because dark chocolate, as we’ve talked before, increases blood flow to both heart and brain, which aids with conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
A study in 2009 has concluded that any flavonoid rich food, such as dark chocolate, tea and some wines especially in those older of age, has improved the cognitive performance of both men and women.
- Improves vision: a study in 2018 has concluded how dark chocolate consumption has impacted positively contrast sensitivity and visual acuity within 2 hours after consumption.
- Natural skin UV protector, improving skin health: thanks to its content of flavonoids, a study in 2009 has found how these can potentially protect against skin damage due to UV light. Other studies also found how dark chocolate and its antioxidant profile can also help with skin roughness, providing hydration and improving overall blood flow.
Aside this, some studies have looked into the antioxidant content of dark chocolate and found how its total flavanol and polyphenol content and antioxidant activity content of both chocolate and cocoa powder were compared to known high-antioxidant fruits such as cranberry, blueberry and pomegranate.
The results were that cocoa powder was actually at a 30.1 milligrams per gram, higher actually than the other fruits!
Remember that while there are clearly benefits, there are also risks that come with overconsumption depending on your gut balance: bloating, headaches, gas, sleep disturbances due to its content of high cacao and caffeine, mood swings, constipation, nervousness – stress – anxiety.
To control its consumption is better to either include it within a recipe, or have small amounts only once a day after a copious meal.