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10 SURPRISING HEALTH BENEFITS OF DARK CHOCOLATE

Mya Care Blogger 09 Nov 2023
10 SURPRISING HEALTH BENEFITS OF DARK CHOCOLATE

Updated 09 November 2023

Dark chocolate is one of the most delicious and indulgent treats you can enjoy without feeling guilty. Not only does it taste amazing, but it also has many health benefits that you may not be aware of.

It is made from the seeds of the cacao tree, which are rich in antioxidants, flavonoids, and other beneficial compounds that help to protect against disease[1]. Dark chocolate consists of more cocoa solids with less sugar content than milk chocolate, which makes it a healthier choice for chocolate lovers. In this blog, we will explore 10 surprising health benefits of dark chocolate that will make you love it even more.

1. Improves Heart Health

One of the most impressive benefits of dark chocolate is that it can improve heart health. Dark chocolate improves heart health in a number of ways. It can lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and inflammation, which are all risk factors for heart disease. It can also improve blood flow to the heart and prevent blood clots from forming. This is achieved by its ability to increase the production of nitric oxide, a gas that relaxes and widens the blood vessels.

A study found that eating dark chocolate at least five times a week was associated with a 57% lower risk of coronary heart disease. Another study found that eating dark chocolate two or more times per week reduced the risk of having a stroke by 20%[2].

2. Reduces Inflammation

Inflammation is a natural response of the body to fight infections and injuries, but chronic inflammation can lead to various diseases such as diabetes, arthritis, and cancer. Dark chocolate can help reduce inflammation by modulating the immune system and suppressing the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines. It also contains polyphenols such as flavanols, which are anti-inflammatory agents that can protect the cells from oxidative stress and damage.

A study found that eating 40 grams of dark chocolate per day for four weeks reduced the levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation, by 23%[3].

3. Boosts Cognitive Function

Dark chocolate is good for your heart and your brain. It can boost cognitive function by improving blood flow to the brain, enhancing neurogenesis (neuronal growth), and stimulating the release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin. Dark chocolate can also protect the brain from aging and neurodegenerative diseases by reducing oxidative stress and inflammation.

A study found that eating dark chocolate every day for eight weeks improved memory, attention, processing speed, and verbal fluency in elderly people with mild cognitive impairment[4]. Other research reveals that eating dark chocolate before a cognitive test improved performance and reduced mental fatigue.

4. Protects the Skin

Dark chocolate can also benefit your skin by safeguarding it from sun damage, improving hydration, and reducing acne. The flavonoids it contains can absorb UV rays and prevent them from reaching skin cells.[5] Flavonoids can also increase blood flow to the skin, which improves its appearance and elasticity. Dark chocolate also contains zinc, an essential mineral for skin health. Zinc can regulate sebum production, fight bacteria, and reduce inflammation, which can help prevent acne breakouts.

A study found that eating 20 grams of dark chocolate (320mg of cocoa flavanols) per day for 12 weeks increased skin hydration, smoothness, and thickness.[6]

5. May Help with Weight Loss

Dark chocolate may seem like an unlikely ally in your weight loss journey, but it can actually help you shed some pounds by suppressing your appetite, increasing your metabolism, and reducing your stress levels.[7] Amazingly, dark chocolate contains fiber, which can make you feel full and satisfied for longer periods of time. The caffeine and theobromine in dark chocolate are stimulants that can boost your energy expenditure and help to burn fat. Dark chocolate can also lower cortisol levels, which is a stress hormone that can trigger hunger and fat storage.

6. Reduces the Risk of Diabetes

Dark chocolate may seem like a forbidden food for people with diabetes, but it can actually help prevent or manage this condition by improving insulin sensitivity, lowering blood sugar levels, and reducing inflammation. The nutrients in dark chocolate, specifically its polyphenols, can enhance the function of insulin receptors and facilitate glucose uptake by cells.[8] Dark chocolate also contains magnesium, a mineral that can regulate blood sugar levels and prevent insulin resistance.

It may also protect the pancreas from inflammatory damage, which can help to prevent diabetes. A study found that eating dark chocolate every day for 15 days improved insulin sensitivity by 30% in healthy volunteers.

7. May Improve Mood

Dark chocolate might make you happier by stimulating the production of endorphins, serotonin, and anandamide[9], which are neurotransmitters that are responsible for feelings of pleasure, happiness, and well-being. Those who frequently consume dark chocolate tend to experience lower levels of cortisol and adrenaline, which are known to promote anxiety and depression. Dark chocolate can also provide sensory satisfaction that improves mood and reduces the cravings for other sweets.

It was found that eating 40 grams of dark chocolate per day for two weeks reduced the levels of cortisol and anxiety in people with chronic stress.

8. May Help Fight Cancer

Dark chocolate may also have anti-cancer properties that support by inhibiting the growth, invasion, and metastasis of cancer cells, inducing tumor apoptosis (cell death), and preventing angiogenesis (cancer blood vessel formation). Antioxidants in dark chocolate naturally scavenge free radicals and protect the DNA from cancerous mutations and damage. They also improve immune function and help the body to better detect cancer.[10]

9. May Improve Gut Health

Eating dark chocolate benefits your gut by improving the diversity of its microbiome. Dark chocolate contains prebiotics, which are indigestible fibers that can feed the beneficial bacteria and increase their numbers and the health effects they impart. Polyphenols in dark chocolate influence the activity and metabolism of good gut bacteria, which enhances their interactions with the host. These also reduce the growth of harmful bacteria such as Clostridium difficile, which can cause diarrhea and colitis.

A study found that eating dark chocolate every day for four weeks increased the levels of Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus, which are probiotic bacteria that can improve digestion, immunity, and mood.

10. May Help Improve Sleep Quality

Dark chocolate can also help you sleep better by helping to regulate your circadian rhythm, which is the internal clock that tells you when to sleep and wake up. The tryptophan in dark chocolate is a well-known precursor to serotonin and then melatonin, which is the hormone that induces sleepiness and promotes deep, restful sleep. The high magnesium levels in dark chocolate can relax the muscles and nerves, thereby easing symptoms of insomnia. Eating dark chocolate at any time of the day appears to improve sleep quality and overall circadian rhythm, according to various studies.[11]

10 Health benefits of Dark Chocolate - heart health,inflammation,cognition, skin,weight loss,diabetes,mood,cancer,gut,sleep

How Much Dark Chocolate Should I Eat per Day?

To enjoy the above benefits, you should opt for dark chocolate containing a minimum of 70% cocoa solids, is organic, fair trade, and minimally processed for maximum nutrition. The higher the cocoa content per serving, the better the health benefits. 

It is a good idea to limit your intake to no more than 30-50g per day, as too much dark chocolate can cause side effects such as headaches, nausea, or weight gain. Studies suggest that for optimal heart health benefits, 30g portions ought to be consumed 3-5 times a week[12]. 6 or more portions did not pose any extra benefits for the heart, although consuming up to 40g per day may help for enhanced cognition and a better mood.

Conclusion

Dark chocolate is more than just an enjoyable treat. It is a superfood that can provide many health benefits for your heart, brain, skin, blood sugar, mood, immune system, gut, and circadian clock. However, not all dark chocolates are created equal. Remember to eat dark chocolate in moderation and as part of a balanced diet and lifestyle.

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Sources:

  • [1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9589144/
  • [2] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0021915017300941
  • [3]https://www.researchgate.net/publication/23271551_Regular_Consumption_of_Dark_Chocolate_Is_Associated_with_Low_Serum_Concentrations_of_C-Reactive_Protein_in_a_Healthy_Italian_Population
  • [4] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22892813/
  • [5] https://www.sciencenews.org/blog/food-for-thought/chocolate-sunscreen
  • [6] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26581682/
  • [7] https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/dark-chocolate-weight-loss#benefits
  • [8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5699188/
  • [9] https://www.thieme-connect.com/products/ejournals/html/10.1055/a-0588-5534
  • [10] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3671179/
  • [11] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9370573/
  • [12] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5537803/

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