Can eating a little dark chocolate every day keep the doctor away? Dark chocolate may not replace the “apple a day” adage, but many research studies suggest that dark chocolate has a place in a healthy diet. Sorry, but milk and white chocolate do not count. Those varieties just don’t have the same antioxidants or nutritional profile as the classic bittersweet treat.
What Makes Dark Chocolate Different?
Like all chocolate, dark chocolate comes from the cacao plant. Cacao has a diverse nutritional profile, exhibiting more antioxidant activity than green tea. The phytonutrients (flavonoids) act as antioxidants, which may lower the risk of cancer and heart disease, according to a 2016 review. Dark chocolate that has 70% or higher cacao content is your best bet if you want to reap some of the health benefits.
Dark chocolate is rich in fiber, iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, zinc, selenium, and potassium. One thing to keep in mind is that dark chocolate is still chocolate, meaning that it’s high in saturated fat and calories. You can enjoy dark chocolate, but only in moderation. Dietitians suggest that people eat no more than one ounce of dark chocolate per day to experience the following benefits.
Boost Your Brain Power:
Will an ounce of dark chocolate before your big meeting have your neurons firing at maximum efficiency? Nobody can confirm or deny that, but consuming dark chocolate can help increase alertness and give the brain a little boost. One study found that the flavanols in dark chocolate help to dilate blood vessels, allowing more oxygen and blood to reach the brain. This process can help fight fatigue and some of the effects of aging.
Improve Heart Health:
There are several compounds in dark chocolate that may protect against bad LDL cholesterol oxidation. Higher levels of LDL cholesterol can increase the risk of clogged arteries, resulting in a potential heart attack. One long-term observational study found that the cocoa in dark chocolate was able to reduce the risk of death by heart disease by 50% over a 15-year period. Another study found that eating dark chocolate at least two times per week lowered the amount of calcified plaque in arteries by 32%. As of now, most of the studies are observational, so more research is necessary.
Good For Your Gut:
Several studies confirmed that during digestion, dark chocolate behaves similar to a prebiotic. This is a type of fiber that feeds beneficial bacteria in the gut, which can improve your microbiome. When you have a higher amount of healthy bacteria in the gut, the body can absorb nutrients more easily. A balanced microbiome can also support healthy metabolism. Additionally, one study found that eating a small amount of dark chocolate before or after a meal can trigger hormones that tell the brain you’re full.
Another benefit of increasing healthy microbes in the gut is that you can lower inflammation in the body. The good microbes feast on dark chocolate and ferment it into anti-inflammatory compounds that improve heart health, according to a 2014 research study. The body doesn’t fully absorb the antioxidants and fiber in dark chocolate until they reach the colon. This may lessen inflammation within cardiovascular tissue and reduce the risk of stroke in the long run.
Great For Your Skin:
Dark chocolate has a diverse mineral content, offering lots of magnesium, copper, iron, and manganese, to name a few. Manganese works to support the production of collagen, a necessary protein that helps maintain healthy-looking skin. The American Academy of Dermatology claims that the body can shed up to 40,000 skin cells each day. The mineral content in dark chocolate may help to repair and renew skin, preventing skin from drying out or producing excess oil. Other studies found that dark chocolate’s antioxidants may protect the skin from powerful ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun.
Improve Blood Flow:
The flavanols in dark chocolate work to stimulate the endothelium, arterial lining, to produce nitric oxide. Nitric oxide has many functions, but one of its main purposes is to signal the arteries to relax. Relaxed arteries lower the resistance of blood flow, which in turn can reduce blood pressure. Many controlled studies found that cocoa and dark chocolate have mild abilities to both improve blood flow and reduce blood pressure. There have been some variations between studies, though, concluding that dark chocolate may not always be able to aid with blood pressure reduction. However, it is clear that it may improve blood flow.