Next time you reach for a chocolatey treat, consider this: Quality dark chocolate that is high in cocoa content (70-85%) is actually good for you and far better for your health than the sugary alternatives of milk or white chocolate.
Dark chocolate contains antioxidants, fibre and loads of minerals, and is proven to have many health benefits. The Mayans, who first discovered the joy of cocoa and held it in high regard around 600 A.D., were definitely onto to something. Today, it’s great to know that we don’t only have to eat leafy green things to be healthy, but remember, everything in moderation!
Cocoa, derived from the seeds of cocoa trees’ fruit, is one of the best-known sources of antioxidants. Antioxidants are molecules that fight free radicals, which are unstable compounds that can cause several conditions such as inflammation, and serious illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, diabetesand Alzheimer’s.
A study, which appears in Chemistry Central Journal, shows that there are more antioxidants in cocoa and dark chocolate than any other fruits tested, including the “Super Fruits” blueberries and acai berries.
Besides antioxidants, quality dark chocolate with a high cocoa content also contains soluble fibre and several beneficial minerals.
A 100g slab of dark chocolate with 70-85% cocoa contains about:
Observational studies have shown that the flavanols, an organic compound that functions as an antioxidant, found in dark chocolate may help to improve blood flow and lower blood pressure, as well as lower the risk of cholesterol and calcified plaque in your arteries.
Cocoa butter found in dark chocolate contains oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat, which helps to raise “good” cholesterol. However, it’s also contains saturated fat, which is not good for your heart, so it is recommended that dark chocolate is consumed in moderation.
Considering all of the above, the risk of heart disease may be significantly lowered too. In fact, a study published in the journal Clinical Nutrition found that the risk of heart disease was lowered by 57% in those who ate dark chocolate five or more times a week.
Dark chocolate has also been found to lower insulin resistance, which is a common risk factor for heart disease, as well as diabetes.
As mentioned, flavanols found in cocoa may help to improve blood flow, which includes blood flow to the brain. Good blood flow to the brain means improved brain function, including learning and memory. It may even improve brain function in the elderly with mental impairment, as well as verbal fluency in general.
Stimulants such as caffeine and theobromine are also found in dark chocolate, which may improve brain function in the short term.
More research is needed to determine the exact amount and types of flavonoid-rich chocolate that would help decrease the risk of a stroke.
Flavanols may also improve blood flow to the skin and help to fight inflammation. Therefore, it may help to improve skin texture, increase skin density and hydration, and protect your skin against UV rays that cause sun damage. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t apply sunscreen though.
The minerals found in dark chocolate are also beneficial for your skin. Manganese supports the production of collagen, which helps your skins look healthy and young. Calcium helps to repair and renew your skin.
Chocolate contains serotonin and is known to help increase endorphin production. These chemicals, as well as flavanols, play a role in relieving stress and improving mood.
Recommended daily allowance
Like all things (yes, good things too), dark chocolate should be consumed in moderation. Only 20-30g of dark chocolate is recommended per day to reap its benefits. Why? Although dark chocolate may have higher percentages of cocoa solids and less sugar (24g per 100g), it does contain more fat – about 43g per 100g in chocolate with 70-85% cocoa content – and about 600 calories. So, although it’s easy to overindulge, be careful not to counteract the benefits of dark chocolate by consuming too much of it.
You should also keep in mind that much research still needs to be done, including studies with larger groups, consuming the recommended daily allowance. We still think it’s great news though that something so delicious can be so nutritious and beneficial to our health. Just remember that the better the quality and the higher the cocoa content, the better dark chocolate is for you.
All Bestmed members, who complete their free annual Health Risk Assessment (HRA) at a participating pharmacy, may visit a contracted dietician for three individualised consultations, as well as for a family nutritional assessment per year as part of the Bestmed Tempo wellness programme.