6 Surprising Health Benefits Of Dark Chocolate

Oh, the sweet tooth.  I have a strong one.  Last, week, I gave you some tips on ways to keep your hand out of the Halloween candy.  Today, I want to give you an option to eat instead.  Let's talk about dark chocolate.  Note...we are not talking about milk chocolate or Hershey's Special Dark chocolate.  We are talking about high quality chocolate that is made with minimal ingredients.

I haven't always been a fan of the dark stuff.  In fact, many years ago, I found dark chocolate (of all varieties) to be extremely bitter.  However, over the years, I have grown to love what I thought was a bitter taste.  

Just a few squares will do the trick.  In fact, I don't even think it would be possible to eat an entire bar because it is so rich.  Not only will dark chocolate satisfy your sweet tooth with just a few squares, it has some great health benefits associated with it.  

#1 - Antioxidants

The high levels of antioxidants in dark chocolate have contributed to its "superfood" status.  Antioxidants help protect your cells from the effect of free radicals.  Free radicals are by-products of chemical reactions in our cells as well as toxins that we are exposed to in our environment.  Many of the benefits of dark chocolate come from its abundance of flavanols, which is a type of polyphenol.

Cacao actually contains some of the highest levels of antioxidants found in any food.  This is even in comparison to foods such as the açaí, pomegranate, cranberry, and blueberry. 

The higher the percentage of cacao in your chocolate, the more antioxidant rich the chocolate is.

#2 - Vitamins and Minerals

Not only is dark chocolate rich in antioxidants, it also contains other vitamins and minerals.  These include iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, and selenium.  

According to the book, Genius Foods, by Max Lugavere, cacao is one of the richest natural food sources of magnesium.  If you don't know much about magnesium, it is involved in over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body.  And, many Americans are deficient in magnesium.

Eat some chocolate, and get some vitamins?  Yes, please.

#3 - Healthy Fats

The fatty acid profile of cacao is very good.  In fact, cacao butter is one of the healthiest natural fats in the world.  See, dark chocolate is made up mostly of monounsaturated fats (the fat found in olive oil) and saturated fat.  The saturated fat found in dark chocolate is stearic acid, which is a form of healthy, saturated fat.  It contains very little polyunsaturated fat.

In addition to containing a good fatty acid profile, dark chocolate is low in sugar and stimulates minimal insulin production.  

#4 - Brain Health

Dark chocolate can actually increase blood flow to your brain.  This has been shown to improve cognitive function.  The flavanols in cacao have also been shown to reverse signs of cognitive aging.

Having trouble focusing or just in a bad mood?  Try reaching for a square of dark chocolate. You might get a mood boost from the four psychoactive mood boosting chemicals such as caffeine and theobromine.

#5 - Heart Health

Dark chocolate has actually been shown to improve heart health.  The magnesium and flavanols found in dark chocolate help improve the cardiovascular system by promoting improved vascular function and regulating the heart rate.

One study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition actually found that consuming dark chocolate resulted in decreased blood pressure in healthy individuals.  Cacao also boosts nitric oxide production which is associated with increased vasodilation and improved endothelial function.

#6 - Protect Your Skin

Dark chocolate on your skin?  Well, you don't have to actually put chocolate on your skin.  However, the flavanols in dark chocolate can help protect the skin from UV damage from the sun.  In addition, the flavanols can improve blood flow to the skin.  They can also increase skin density and hydration.  Dark chocolate can help reduce stress hormones that break down collagen in the skin.

Beware...not all chocolate is created equal.

It's extremely important to buy quality dark chocolate if you are looking for health benefits.  Buy chocolate that contains at least 75% cacao or higher.  The higher the percentage, the better.  Ideally, I try to buy 85% or higher.

One note here is the difference between cacao and cocoa.  While these two words sound similar, there is a difference.  Check out this article that goes into the the major differences between cacao and cocoa.

Also, take a good look at the ingredients.  You are looking for as few ingredients as possible.  Sugar should come after the cacao ingredients, not first.  Make sure that the chocolate has not been processed with alkali (known as Dutch processing).  This process reduces the bitterness of the chocolate, but it also reduces the flavanols.  

Other things to look for on the label would be 100% organic, fair trade, and soy free.  Many bars contain soy lecithin as an emulsifying agent.

I think I'll grab a square.

Next time you have a sweet tooth, try reaching for that dark chocolate instead of a more traditional treat.  Again, make sure it's the good stuff, not the commercially produced, sugar loaded, fake ingredient chocolate.  As with anything else, moderation is good here.  Nothing is good in excess, including chocolate.

If you want a more deep dive into dark chocolate, check out this article from Mark's Daily Apple.

Next week, we will be sharing our favorite dark chocolate brands, and we will be doing a blind taste test to come up with our clear favorite.  Make sure you check out the post.  You might find a new brand to love.

Enjoy!

~KP

Kenzie Presnell

Loving life, enjoying the ride, and trying to live life as healthy as I can.

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