Chocolate, especially dark chocolate, has many nutrients that can positively affect our health. It’s loaded with antioxidants and other substances such as methylxanthines and flavonols that have many health benefits.
There are many health benefits that have been proven by scientific studies, among them are:
High-quality nutritive components
In order for dark chocolate to be considered high quality, it has to include high cocoa content. It contains a decent amount of soluble fiber and is loaded with minerals. A 100-gram bar of dark chocolate with 70-85% cocoa contains:
- 11 grams of fiber.
- 67% of the Daily Value (DV) for iron.
- 58% of the DV for magnesium.
- 89% of the DV for copper.
- 98% of the DV for manganese.
It also contains potassium, phosphorus, zinc, and selenium. Among other components, it also contains stimulants such as caffeine and theobromine, but the amount is very small compared with coffee.
Dark chocolate contains more phenolic antioxidants than most foods, due to its high cocoa content. Flavonoids, including catechin, epicatechin, and procyanidins predominate in antioxidant activity.
The epicatechin content of cocoa is primarily responsible for its favorable impact on vascular endothelium via its effect on both acute and chronic upregulation of nitric oxide production. Other cardiovascular effects are mediated through the anti-inflammatory effects of cocoa polyphenols and modulated through the activity of NF-κB.
Antioxidant effects of cocoa may directly influence insulin resistance and, in turn, reduce the risk for diabetes. Further, cocoa consumption may stimulate changes in redox-sensitive signaling pathways involved in gene expression and the immune response. Cocoa can protect nerves from injury and inflammation, protect the skin from oxidative damage from UV radiation in topical preparations, and have beneficial effects on satiety, cognitive function, and mood.
Blood flow and blood pressure
Flavonols can stimulate the endothelium to produce nitric oxide, which sends signals to the arteries to relax, and by doing so it lowers the resistance to blood flow and reduces blood pressure.
Studies have shown these benefits, though the effects are usually mild.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death and disability-adjusted life-years globally and is associated with risk factors, including hypertension, smoking, hyperlipidemia, and diabetes mellitus.
Diet has been established as one of the most important lifestyle factors that can strongly influence the incidence of cardiovascular disease. Dietary flavonoids may decrease cardiovascular risk by protecting lipids, proteins, and nucleic acids from oxidative damage, as well as reducing inflammation and regulating vascular homeostasis. Flavonoid intake has been inversely associated with coronary artery disease (CAD) incidence and mortality.
Also, the compounds in dark chocolate can protect against the oxidation of LDL cholesterol.
A study published in the journal BMJ evaluated the long-term effectiveness and cost effectiveness of daily dark chocolate consumption in individuals with metabolic syndrome at high risk of cardiovascular disease and found that the blood pressure and cholesterol-lowering effects are beneficial in the prevention of cardiovascular disease in patients with metabolic syndrome.
In a study of 470 older men, cocoa was found to reduce the risk of death from heart disease by 50% over 15 years.
Another study revealed that eating chocolate two or more times per week lowered the risk of having calcified plaque in the arteries by 32%. Eating chocolate less frequently had no effect.
Yet another study showed that eating dark chocolate more than five times per week lowered the risk of heart disease by 57%.
Another benefit that some studies have found is that cocoa can increase HDL cholesterol.
One study published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology showed that eating high flavanol cocoa for 5 days can improve blood flow to the brain and also improve cognitive function in older adults with mild cognitive impairment.
The results showed that flavonol-rich cocoa can increase the cerebral blood flow to gray matter, suggesting the potential of cocoa flavanols for the treatment of vascular impairment, including dementia and strokes.
Bone Health and Osteoporosis Risk
Human studies investigating the role of chocolate consumption on serum bone markers and bone mineral density (BMD) have been inconsistent. This may be because of the different compositions and thereby the nutrient and bioactive content among chocolate types. White and milk chocolates are high in sugar and low in flavonoids and most minerals. On the other hand, dark chocolate has 45-85% cocoa solids and is high in flavonoids, most minerals, and low in sugar.
A study published in the journal Nutrition showed that postmenopausal women had no bone effects at moderate chocolate intakes, whereas adolescents consuming chocolate had greater longitudinal bone growth.
Based on flavonoid and mineral content, unsweetened cocoa powder appeared to be the best option followed by dark chocolate with higher cocoa content in terms of supporting and preserving bone health.
Chronic Kidney Disease
A study published in the journal Clinical Nutrition found that evidence supports the use of cocoa as a nutraceutical agent to mitigate the effects of chronic kidney disease (CKD). Evidence has indicated that polyphenolics present in cocoa, provide a substrate for the growth of the microbiome and engender the production of alkyl catechols that act as cytoprotectives. It found that these polyphenolics may reduce the inflammatory and oxidative burdens that accompany CKD.
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