Is chocolate really a bane to your health? Many people might think so, simply because it’s known that chocolate contains a lot of stuff that are considered unhealthy, such as sugar, fats, and calories. Eating a 100-gram bar of chocolate by yourself can easily give you more than 500 calories. It’s fine if you need to boost your sugar levels but dicey if you can’t afford the extra calories.
The truth is, the nutritional value of chocolate, especially its calorie content, will depend on various factors. Cocoa percentage, sugar content, and if there are other additives used will determine how much calories and nutrients you get. More importantly, the higher the cocoa content, the more antioxidants you get. Read on to find out more about the health benefits of dark chocolate.
#1 Contains Healthy Nutrients
Dark chocolate with seventy to 85% cocoa may be bitter but it’s actually more nutritious than sweet milk chocolate. In fact, when you eat dark chocolate you can get important minerals like iron and magnesium. It also has copper, manganese, and dietary fiber. Moreover, dark chocolate contains potassium, selenium, zinc, and phosphorus. That’s a long list of important minerals our bodies need to function properly.
Yes, it contains fat. But if you look closely, you’ll find that most of the fat found in dark chocolate are actually either monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) or saturated fats. These two types of fats are actually recommended as good fats, with health benefits like higher levels of good cholesterol and reduced risks of heart diseases.
#2 Contains Antioxidants
Dark chocolate is an excellent source of antioxidants such as catechins, flavonols, as wells as polyphenols. Catechins are actually the same type of antioxidants you will find in green tea extracts, while polyphenols are the same antioxidants found in coffee, red-colored fruits, as well as in many antioxidant-rich spices. Flavonols, on the other hand, are usually found in vegetables like broccoli, in red wine, and in superfoods like blueberries.
One study, in fact, considered cacao seeds, the source of cocoa that’s made into chocolate, as a “super fruit”. The reason why? The researchers found out that cocoa powder has so much more antioxidants compared to many fruit powders. Cacao powder had more than 600 micromoles Trolox equivalents, which is the measure of its antioxidant capacity.
In contrast, acai berry powder only had about 400 μMTE/g, while cranberry powder came in third at around 300 μMTE/g, followed by blueberry powder, and pomegranate powder had the least antioxidant capacity.
Among the five products tested, cocoa powder also had the highest polyphenol and flavonol content. The flavonol content of cranberry powder was not even a third of the flavonol content of cocoa powder, indicating that cocoa powder is a better source of flavonols.
#3 Prevent Lipid Oxidation
Lipids play very important roles in normal body functioning, one of which is being a part of cellular membranes. Lipids are also part of the structure of LDL or low-density lipoprotein, the bad cholesterol, and HDL or high-density lipoprotein, the good cholesterol. Thus, when lipids in the body become oxidized when they are attacked by free radicals, it usually leads to unhealthy results.
For instance, when the lipids in the cell membranes are oxidized, it can lead to the destruction of the cell. The main problem when a free radical causes oxidative damage to lipids is that it can start a chain reaction that can eventually lead to tissue and organ damage. Moreover, the oxidation of LDL can lead to the formation of plaque in the walls of our blood vessels, which can then eventually lead to cardiovascular diseases.
A 2014 study investigated how cocoa consumption can benefit diabetic patients. The results showed that consuming ten grams of cocoa powder twice daily for six weeks led to improved lipid profile. Lipid peroxidation was also reduced, mainly due to the catechin content of cocoa powder. This study is interesting in the sense that it proves that chocolates aren’t always bad for diabetic patients, contrary to popular belief.
#4 Good For Brain Health
Recent studies on the effects of dark chocolate consumption indicate that it may actually be good for brain health. The studies show that eating dark chocolate with a cocoa content of 70% or higher may help improve neuroplasticity or brain plasticity. This refers to the brain’s ability to change or to re-wire itself, in response to new stimuli and experience.
Moreover, dark chocolate consumption is associated with improved cognition. You can also reap other brain health benefits like better memory, enhanced mood, and even improved immunity. The higher the level of cocoa content in the chocolate you eat, the more pronounced these effects become.
Other previous studies involving cocoa also showed that when you eat cocoa with high-flavanol content, it can increase the blood flow to the brain and improve the cognitive functions of elderly people. In one study involving elderly people with mild cognitive impairment, the participants showed better verbal fluency scores after eight weeks of treatment.
A recent scientific review of previous human studies that focused on how cocoa flavonols affected brain health concluded that treatment with cocoa flavonols can lead to improvements in cognitive performance. Memory, processing speed, attention, as well as general cognition are positively affected by consuming dark chocolates that are rich in cocoa flavonols.
Moreover, the results of the review also indicate that the cognitive-enhancing properties of dark chocolate consumption can have immediate effects, suggesting that when you’re in a cognitively demanding situation and you need an immediate brain power boost, you can simply pop a piece of chocolate.
The Bottom Line
These recent studies show that there are a lot of healthy reasons why we should not avoid eating chocolates. However, it is important to remember that these studies used dark chocolate with cocoa content of at least 70%. This means that the positive health effects mentioned here may not be applicable when you eat other types of chocolate with lower cocoa content. Moreover, since chocolate does contain a lot of calories, it’s always a good idea to eat it in moderation.