If you have a sweet tooth, you know how tough it is to get a sugary craving out of your mind once it enters. We all deserve to treat ourselves every now and then with a sweet treat! However, there is one sweet that you can feel good about indulging in: dark chocolate.
Why Is Dark Chocolate Good For You?
There are a variety of reasons why researchers and health practitioners consider cocoa and dark chocolate to be good for you, especially when compared to other types of chocolate. Cocoa contains high levels of naturally-occurring compounds called flavanols, which are plant-derived nutrients. The specific flavanols found in cocoa beans are a distinct blend of phytonutrients that have unique benefits to the body.
The Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate
1. Full of antioxidants
Dark chocolate contains organic compounds that function as antioxidants. Researchers can test the antioxidant activity of foods by essentially setting bad molecules against a sample of food to see how well the antioxidants can “disarm” those molecules. Unprocessed cocoa beans (found in dark chocolate) are among the highest-scoring foods tested. In certain tests, dark chocolate has been shown to contain more antioxidants than some fruits, including blueberries and superfood acai berries!
Summary Dark chocolate and unprocessed cocoa beans have a great amount of antioxidants, higher than the antioxidant number of most foods.
2: Improves brain function
If you’re having trouble staying focused, try having a bit of dark chocolate. Studies have shown that dark chocolate increases blood flow to the brain, and can even help improve verbal fluency. This “brain boost” lasts about two to three hours according to research, so it’s a perfect boost right before a test or big presentation.
Summary Dark chocolate helps to increase blood flow to the brain, which can help with focus and even memory.
3: Improves blood flow and lowers blood pressure
The flavanols found in dark chocolate provide a variety of benefits to the body! One of the best benefits is that they stimulate the lining of the arteries to produce nitric oxide. Nitric oxide tells your arteries to relax, which lowers the resistance to blood flow, which in turn reduces blood pressure.
Summary Dark chocolate contains compounds that lowers resistance to blood flow and therefore reduces blood pressure.
4: Raises good cholesterol while lowering bad
While it is not an instantaneous benefit, studies have shown that small, moderated amounts of dark chocolate can help lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as “bad” cholesterol, while increasing high-density lipoprotein (HDL), which is considered to be “good” cholesterol. Studies have shown that just a seven day consumption of dark chocolate can show a slight decrease in LDL cholesterol, with the strongest results showing after 21 or more days of consumption.
Summary Over time, consuming dark chocolate may result in your bad cholesterol levels decreasing, while your good cholesterol increases.
5: Reduces heart disease risk
Because dark chocolate contains compounds that protect against the oxidation of LDL, this means a long-term result would be a lower risk of heart disease. However, it is important to note that this is based on a study of consuming very small pieces of dark chocolate a day (about 0.25 ounces). A typical candy bar is about 43 grams.
Summary Similar to cholesterol levels, the regular consumption of dark chocolate may result in a reduced risk of heart disease over time.
6: Potentially boosts your vision
While there is still some further research and testing to be done on this, a recent study found that people who consumed dark chocolate versus milk chocolate had higher contrast visual sensitivity and visual clarity. This enhanced visual performance is likely due to the increase of blood flow to the retinas and brain.
Summary Beginning stages of research shows that those who consume dark chocolate over milk chocolate have improved vision.
7: Protects your skin
Another benefit that flavanols in dark chocolate provide is that they can help skin to reflect UV light, making you less prone to sunburns. In addition, these naturally occurring compounds also improve blood flow to the skin and increase skin density and hydration. Certain studies have also shown that dark chocolate consumers displayed smoother skin!
Summary The natural compounds found in dark chocolate can help reflect sunlight to decrease the likelihood of sunburns.
8: Lowers your body mass index
For all you exercise junkies, this one’s for you: one study showed that the frequent consumption of small amounts of dark chocolate is linked to lower body mass index (BMI). Participants in the study who showed lower BMI ate dark chocolate an average of twice a week, and also exercised 3.6 times per week.
Summary Research has shown that those who eat dark chocolate and exercise regularly have a lower body mass index.
9: Boosts your mood
You know those foods that make you feel happy inside? Well, you can add dark chocolate to that list! Dark chocolate relaxes the blood vessels of the brain, which in turn helps to release serotonin, a chemical that our bodies produce to stabilize moods.
Summary Dark chocolate produces the natural chemical serotonin, which helps regulate a good mood.
10: Aids your oral health
This one may sound a bit contradictory, but dark chocolate contains theobromine, a component that can help to fight tooth decay. It also combats bacteria that damages your overall oral health. Of course, eating dark chocolate is not a substitute to oral care, so remember to brush and floss after you enjoy your chocolate!
Summary A compound found in dark chocolate can help fight tooth decay and aid in your overall oral health.
11: Helps control your cough
Along with helping tooth decay, theobromine can help to control the activity in the part of your brain that triggers coughing fits. In a small study, researchers found that theobromine was more effective in stopping a coughing fit than codeine, which is considered to be one of the most effective cough medicine.
Summary The same compound that helps fight tooth decay can also aid in suppressing coughs.
12: Overall, it’s very nutritious
With all the health benefits of dark chocolate, this one seems the most obvious: it’s overall pretty nutritious! It provides essential minerals, including iron, copper, magnesium and manganese, all of which contribute to forming healthy blood cells, improving your immune system and maintaining healthy bones. Other nutrient benefits include fiber, potassium and good fatty acids.
Summary Dark chocolate is rich in a variety of minerals that are beneficial to your overall health and wellness.
While dark chocolate is considered to be good for you, it’s important to always purchase quality items to truly reap the benefits. Look for dark chocolate that has a 70% or higher cocoa content, since the higher cocoa percentage will mean higher percentage of flavanols. Another essential key is to enjoy your dark chocolate in moderation — most nutritionists will recommend one ounce or less per day. With all this in mind, go ahead and enjoy a piece of delicious dark chocolate — you and your health deserve it!