Dark chocolate is packed with nutrients that can positively affect your health.
Made from the seed of the cacao tree, it's one of the best sources of antioxidants on the planet.
Studies show that dark chocolate can improve your health and reduce the risk of heart disease.
This article reviews 7 health benefits of dark chocolate or cocoa that are backed by science:
If you buy quality dark chocolate with a high cocoa content, it is actually particularly nutritious.
It contains a decent amount of soluble fiber and is loaded with minerals.
A bar of 100 grams of dark chocolate with 70 to 85% cocoa contains :
- 11 grams of fiber
- 67% of the RDA for iron
- 58% of the RDI for magnesium
- 89% of the ROI for copper
- 98% of the RDA for manganese
- It also contains a lot of potassium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium
Of course, 100 grams is quite a large amount and not something you should be consuming on a daily basis. All of these nutrients also contain 600 calories and moderate amounts of sugar .
For this reason, dark chocolate should be consumed in moderation.
The fatty acid profile of cocoa and dark chocolate is also excellent. Fats are mostly saturated and monounsaturated, with small amounts of polyunsaturated fats.
It also contains stimulants like caffeine and theobromine, but is unlikely to keep you up at night as the amount of caffeine is very low compared to coffee .
In nutritional terms, ORAC stands for “oxygen radical absorbance capacity”. It is a measure of the antioxidant activity of foods.
Basically, researchers pit a bunch of (bad) free radicals against a sample of a food and see how well the antioxidants in the food can "disarm" the radicals.
The biological relevance of ORAC values is questioned, as it is measured in a test tube and may not have the same effect in the body.
However, it should be mentioned that raw, unprocessed cocoa beans are among the best performing foods tested.
Dark chocolate is loaded with organic compounds that are biologically active and function as antioxidants. These include polyphenols, flavanols and catechins, among others.
A study showed that cocoa and dark chocolate had more antioxidant activity, polyphenols and flavanols than any other fruit tested, including blueberries and acai berries .
The flavanols in dark chocolate can stimulate the endothelium, the lining of the arteries, to produce nitric oxide (NO) .
One of the functions of NO is to send signals to the arteries to relax, which decreases resistance to blood flow and, therefore, lowers blood pressure.
Numerous controlled studies show that cocoa and dark chocolate can improve blood circulation and lower blood pressure, although the effects are generally mild .
However, one study in people with hypertension showed no effect, so take this with a grain of salt .
Consuming dark chocolate may improve several important risk factors for heart disease.
In a controlled study, cocoa powder was found to significantly decrease oxidized LDL cholesterol in men. It also increased HDL and lowered total LDL for those who have high cholesterol .
Oxidized LDL means that LDL (“bad” cholesterol) has reacted with free radicals.
This makes the LDL particle itself reactive and capable of damaging other tissues, such as the lining of the arteries in your heart.
It makes perfect sense that cocoa lowers oxidized LDL. It contains an abundance of powerful antioxidants that enter the bloodstream and protect lipoproteins from oxidative damage .
Dark chocolate can also reduce insulin resistance, which is another common risk factor for many diseases like heart disease and diabetes .
Dark chocolate compounds appear to be highly protective against LDL oxidation.
In the long run, this should cause less cholesterol to lodge in the arteries, reducing the risk of heart disease.
In fact, several long-term observational studies show quite drastic improvement.
In a study of 470 elderly men, cocoa was found to reduce the risk of death from heart disease by 50% over a 15-year period .
Another study found that eating chocolate two or more times a week reduced the risk of plaque calcification in the arteries by 32%. Eating chocolate less frequently had no effect .
Yet another study found that consuming dark chocolate more than 5 times per week reduced the risk of heart disease by 57% .
Of course, all three of these studies are observational studies, so cannot prove that it was the chocolate that reduced the risk.
However, as the biological process is known (lowered blood pressure and oxidized LDL), it is plausible that eating dark chocolate regularly may reduce the risk of heart disease.
The bioactive compounds in dark chocolate can also be great for your skin .
Flavonols can protect against sun damage, improve blood flow to the skin, and increase skin density and hydration .
The minimum erythemal dose (MED) is the minimum amount of UVB rays required to cause reddening of the skin 24 hours after exposure.
In a study of 30 people, the MED more than doubled after consuming flavanol-rich dark chocolate for 12 weeks .
If you're planning a beach vacation, consider stocking up on dark chocolate in the weeks and months ahead.
The good news on the nutrition side is not over yet. Dark chocolate can also improve your brain function.
A study of healthy volunteers showed that consuming flavanol-rich cocoa for five days improved blood flow to the brain .
Cocoa can also significantly improve cognitive function in older people with mental disorders. It may also improve verbal fluency and several disease risk factors .
Additionally, cocoa contains stimulants like caffeine and theobromine, which may be a big reason why it can improve short-term brain function .
There is considerable evidence that cocoa may offer powerful health benefits, being particularly protective against heart disease.
Of course, that doesn't mean you should go all out and consume lots of chocolate every day. It's still loaded with calories and easy to overeat.
Maybe grab a square or two after dinner and try to really savor them. If you want the benefits of cocoa without the calories of chocolate, consider making hot cocoa without cream or sugar.
Also be aware that much of the chocolate on the market is unhealthy.
Choose quality chocolates - dark chocolate with 70% or more cocoa.
Dark chocolates usually contain sugar, but the amounts are usually less and the darker the chocolate, the less sugar it will contain.
Chocolate is one of the few foods that tastes great while providing important health benefits.