Dark Chocolate: What Are Its Health Benefits?
Chocolate is one of the most popular foods in the world. If you enjoy it in moderation and choose a kind that has a high cocoa content, is dairy-free, and has no added sugar, dark chocolate can even be beneficial to your health.
The health benefits of cocoa stem from the natural compounds in the cocoa bean, which include epicatechin. This has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Dark chocolate also contains, resveratrol, which is known for its neuroprotective effects.
When we say that dark chocolate can be healthy, we’re talking about pure cocoa. However, due to the fact that this has a very bitter flavor, you need a kind with as little added sugar as possible, to truly enjoy its benefits.
Dark chocolate: important information
- Cacao: this refers to the plant, a small perennial leaf tree (theobroma cacao), and its dry seeds.
- Cocoa: this refers to toasted cacao beans, ground into powder, which eliminates most of the fat.
- Cocoa butter: the fatty component of the cacao bean.
- Chocolate: a solid sweet made from toasted cacao beans.
- White chocolate: contains no cocoa whatsoever. It’s a mix of pasteurized milk and sugar.
Components of chocolate
- Healthy fats.
- Nitrogenous compounds, including proteins, methylxanthines, theobromine, and caffeine. These are CNS (central nervous system) stimulants, diuretics, and smooth muscle relaxants. Theobromine is the ingredient that can cause heartburn in some people. It can also diminish a persistent cough, and reduce the activity of the vagus nerve.
- Minerals such as potassium, phosphorous, copper, iron, zinc, and magnesium.
- Valeric acid, which acts as a stress reducer, despite the presence of stimulants.
The benefits of chocolate
The benefits of chocolate, stem from the compounds found naturally in the cacao bean. These include epicatechin (a flavonoid) and resveratrol. The former has both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and it’s believed to help protect nerve cells from damage.
Resveratrol is a powerful antioxidant known for its neuroprotective effects. It can cross the blood-brain barrier, which allows it to regulate inflammation in the CNS. This is important because the CNS plays a significant role in the development of neurodegenerative diseases.
Cacao contains about 380 known chemical substances, 10 of which are psychoactive compounds. Cocoa has more phenolic compounds and stronger antioxidant properties than green tea, black tea, or red wine.
The phenolic compounds of cacao can stave off illnesses where oxidative stress is a cause or contributing factor, such as cancer. It also has anti-proliferative, anti-mutagenic, chemo-protective, and anti-carcinogenic effects.
- Anti-inflammatory: reduces the level of C-reactive protein by 17 per cent.
- Slows the progression of periodontitis.
- Improves skin conditions, and protects against UV rays.
- Helps promote endurance during exercise.
- Protects against pre-eclampsia in pregnant women.
- Improves intestinal flora.
- Protects vision, and reduces the symptoms of glaucoma and cataracts caused by diabetes.
- Anti-obesity effects, possibly due to polyphenols’ ability to suppress the synthesis of fatty acids while promoting the expenditure of energy in the cellular mitochondria.
- Cardio-protective, including reducing blood pressure, improving lipid profiles, and helping to prevent atrial fibrillation.
- Improved liver function for those with cirrhosis.
Combining chocolate and apples
Eating apples correlates to a lower risk of death from cardiac disease. Experts believe that the link is based in the apples’ antioxidant flavonoid content, which includes the anti-inflammatory quercetin. Dark chocolate, which is rich in anti-oxidant catechins, has also been found to promote heart health.
Combining dark chocolate with apples has been shown to dissolve blood clots, which reduces the risk of a cerebrovascular episode.
However, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. Given that a large part of an apple’s antioxidant content comes from its peel, you’ll have to eat it unpeeled. For this reason, you should look for organic apples, so as to avoid pesticides and other chemical products.
With respect to dark chocolate, the closer it is to its natural state, the higher its nutritional value. Therefore, you should look for products with the highest possible cocoa content and the lowest possible sugar content. Your best bet are chunks of raw cacao, assuming you can handle the bitterness.