10 reasons why chocolate is good for you

10 Reasons Why Chocolate is Good for You

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Interest in chocolate has increased in recent years due to its potential health benefits, such as improving heart function, regulating blood pressure, and preventing oxidative damage to body tissues, among others. In this post, we’ll explore the top 10 reasons why dark chocolate is good for you! In fact, it is one of the few foods that not only taste exquisite but keep you healthy at the same time. Read on to learn about the many ways in which chocolate helps you stay vibrant!

10 reasons why chocolate is good for you
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Why can chocolate be good for you?

Chocolate is produced from the beans of the cocoa tree (Theobroma cacao). It is very high in antioxidants, which is where its superpowers lie, and provides a variety of health benefits.

Specifically, we are talking about chocolate that has at least 70% or more cocoa, since the higher the cocoa content, the more antioxidants it has.

The higher the cocoa content, the more antioxidants chocolate has

What makes chocolate healthy?

Cocoa contains flavanols, a type of flavonoid that is only found in cocoa and chocolate. Flavonoids are natural compounds found in plant-based foods that act as antioxidants and help fight free radicals in the body. In fact, this study found that cocoa and dark chocolate had more antioxidant activity, polyphenols and flavanols than any other fruit that was studied, including blueberries and acai. Therefore, it is considered a “superfood.”

Chocolate, especially dark chocolate, also has other nutrients important to our health. Here, I’ll present a table with the nutritional content of 1 ounce of dark chocolate (that has a number of cocoa solids between 70-85%). In the table, I include the most relevant nutrients, but in the above link, you will find the complete nutritional data for dark chocolate.

NutrientsAmount% Daily Value (DV) based on a 2000 calorie diet 
Calories 1688%
Protein2.2 g4%
Total fat12 g18%
Saturated fat6.9 g34%
Polyunsaturated fat0.04 g
Monounsaturated fat3.6 g
Total Carbohydrates13 g4%
Dietary fiber3.1 g12%
Sugars6.8 g
Vitamin A10.9 IU0%
Vitamin C
Vitamin D
Vitamin E (Alpha Tocopherol)0.17 mg1%
Vitamin K2 mcg3%
Magnesium64 mg16%
Calcium20 mg2%
Iron3.3 mg19%
Potassium200 mg6%
Copper0.5 mg25%
Manganese0.5 mg27%

As you can see, dark chocolate is high in magnesium, iron, copper, and manganese. In addition, it is a decent source of fiber that, as we will see, has an important contribution to gastrointestinal health.

Magnesium is involved in more than 600 reactions in your body! It helps convert energy from food, helps repair DNA, contributes to muscle movement and protein formation, and is involved in neurotransmitter regulation.

Manganese is involved in the metabolism of amino acids, cholesterol, glucose, and carbohydrates, as well as in reproductive functions and immune response.

Copper, along with iron, allows the body to form red blood cells. In addition, it helps keep bones, blood vessels, nerves, and immune function healthy. It also contributes to iron absorption.

What does chocolate do to your body?

Now, we will explore how this delicious food protects your health while delighting your palate. The top 10 reasons why chocolate is good for you and your health is because chocolate:

  1. Provides powerful antioxidants
  2. Protects your heart health
  3. Helps lower blood pressure
  4. Can help reduce blood cholesterol levels
  5. Protects your brain health
  6. Improves your mood
  7. Helps prevent type 2 diabetes
  8. Protects your skin
  9. Promotes your gut health
  10. May help reduce cancer risk

So, get comfortable (and happy), because, for the next few minutes, we’ll be exploring in-depth the 10 reasons why chocolate is good for you!

1. Can chocolate protect you from oxidative damage?

As we know know, chocolate is rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants benefit us by reducing oxidative stress and therefore, reducing the risk of developing chronic health conditions such as:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer

Oxidation is a process that normally occurs in the body, all the time. Oxidation occurs when a molecule, atom or ion loses an electron. This results in unpaired electrons (or free radicals), which are highly chemically reactive. You see, electrons like to be in pairs, so free radicals will scavenge throughout the body in search of other electrons so they can become a pair. This causes damage to cells, proteins and DNA. Inflammation is one of the body’s responses to this type of damage.

Antioxidants prevent this free radical activity from occurring, by oxidizing themselves (a process called reduction). Usually, the body manages oxidation (that is, it can create its own antioxidants) and maintains a balance between free radical activity and antioxidant activity.

Oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance between these two processes. When more free radicals are present than antioxidants available to neutralize them, free radicals can begin to damage proteins, tissues and DNA in the body. Over time, if this damage remains uncontrolled, chronic health conditions such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes can develop.

That’s where food sources of antioxidants are useful. A diet rich in antioxidants (such as those found in dark chocolate) adds more “soldiers” to the “army” and helps the body fight these daily processes, which in turn, helps prevent damage and disease.

2. Why is chocolate good for your heart?

Can chocolate help your heart?
Chocolate is full of antioxidants that help keep your heart healthy

One of the best known health benefits of chocolate is its ability to protect heart health. For example, this study showed that regular consumption of chocolate with a high cocoa content has beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system in young and healthy adults, “ improving vascular function by reducing central brachial artery pressures and promoting vascular relaxation, and thus enhancing the matching of the arterial system with the left ventricle”.

The compounds found in chocolate help protect and promote heart health in two main ways:

3. Chocolate helps lower blood pressure

According to this meta analysis, which includes 15 studies, there is “a small but significant effect on the reduction of blood pressure with cocoa products rich in flavanol compared to the control {placebo}”. Dark chocolate flavanols have been shown to support the production of nitric oxide in the endothelium (the tissue inside of blood vessels). Nitric oxide, BTW, helps to relax blood vessels and improve blood flow. The result: blood pressure decreases.

Other studies suggest that there is a link between a high intake of cocoa or chocolate (about 6 grams per day or 1-2 small squares) and a reduction in the risk of heart disease and mortality. This is possibly due in part to the decrease in blood pressure and inflammation.

4. And it can improve blood cholesterol levels

There is evidence that dark chocolate and cocoa can help significantly reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad” cholesterol) levels and total blood cholesterol. It is believed that cocoa flavan-3-ols inhibit cholesterol absorption and expression of LDL cholesterol receptors.

In addition, although this particular study was small, it found that chocolate with a high polyphenol content was effective in improving cholesterol levels that are associated with clogged arteries in patients with diabetes. Apparently, it was able to increase HDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol) without affecting weight, inflammation markers, insulin resistance or blood glucose control.

Finally, it is also suggested that platelet aggregation, a risk factor for blood clot formation, can be reduced by a mechanism that is probably due to the theobromine in dark chocolate. Theobromine is a caffeine-like cocoa substance, which also acts as a central nervous system stimulant, in addition to providing benefits to the circulatory system.

Fun fact: The term theobromine is derived from Theobroma, which in Greek means “food of the gods.” Very appropriate, since chocolate is simply divine!

5. Is chocolate good for your brain?

Does chocolate improve memory? You bet! The health benefits of chocolate also extend to the brain. For example, it helps improve cognitive function and release nerve growth factors in the body. The flavonoids it contains are absorbed, penetrate and accumulate in the regions of the brain involved with learning and memory, especially in the hippocampus. In this research paper, it was demonstrated that “cocoa rich in flavanol can increase cerebral blood flow to gray matter, suggesting the potential of cocoa flavanols for the treatment of vascular insufficiency, including dementia and stroke… “

Another of the main ways in which dark chocolate affects the brain is due to its tryptophan content. Tryptophan is an amino acid necessary for the formation of serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that participates in positive moods and feelings. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that create feelings of pleasure.

6. Why does chocolate make you happy?

So how does chocolate improve mood? Chocolate is also a food source of compounds that resemble anandamide, a messenger molecule that is involved in pain, depression and memory (also known as the “bliss molecule”). It is believed that these chocolate compounds, upon reaching the brain, can induce a mild, natural and temporary “high.”

Another compound found in dark chocolate is theobromine, which as we just saw, is very similar to caffeine. Both the theobromine and caffeine content in chocolate can contribute to the feeling of alertness, and tends to improve mood, concentration and memory.

Chocolate is also a good source of magnesium, as we saw above. Magnesium is a mineral that can help reduce stress by suppressing the release of its hormone: cortisol. Now we can understand why we reach for “something chocolate-y” when we want to feel better!

7. Can eating chocolate helps reduce the risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes?

We’re more than halfway through our list of the 10 reasons why chocolate is good for you! Now we’ll take a look at how chocolate can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. How, you may ask? Well, cocoa flavonoids can improve insulin resistance in the following ways:

  • Improving tissue function inside blood vessels
  • Altering glucose (sugar) metabolism
  • Reducing oxidative stress

In fact, oxidative stress is thought to be the main culprit behind insulin resistance. In addition, the relationship between insulin resistance and blood vessel function is reciprocal. That is, they help each other out, especially when it comes to sugar metabolism.

Apparently, evidence from certain studies suggests that cocoa may be useful in delaying the progression to type 2 diabetes and improving insulin resistance in metabolic syndrome.

Most research also support the fact that cocoa flavonoids have an antidiabetic effect since they can:

  • Promote insulin secretion
  • Improve insulin sensitivity
  • Lower blood lipid levels (cholesterol and triglycerides)
  • Prevent oxidative and inflammatory damage associated with diabetes

However, commercial cocoa and dark chocolate products tend to be low in flavonoids and high in added sugars. Therefore, it is necessary to check the nutritional label and try to choose chocolate with a cocoa content greater than 70%. Also, make sure that it has a minimal to zero amount of added sugars. FYI, organic chocolate is generally less processed than non-organic types. Processing tends to lower the flavonoid content in these products.

8. Is chocolate good for your skin?

Yes, you heard it correctly: despite the ancient myth that chocolate causes acne (well, there are people who are sensitive to this food and may experience flare ups, so…?), chocolate has properties that can possibly protect your skin. As we have seen, chocolate is rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. This in turn may help your skin in terms of:

  • Improving hydration
  • Protecting from sun damage (the number 1 skin enemy)
  • Helping prevent collagen deterioration

Studies suggest that cocoa flavanols contribute to internal photoprotection (a type of internal SPF, if you will), improve blood circulation to the skin, soften the skin’s surface and improve cosmetic hydration. An increase in the elasticity or flexibility of the skin has also been observed when consuming chocolate that’s high in antioxidants.

However, the evidence regarding the health benefits of dark chocolate for skin is still inconclusive. Therefore, it is always good to continue practicing conventional sun protection, which includes chemical and/or physical SPF, in addition to avoiding excessive exposure to the sun’s rays.

9. Is chocolate good for gut health?

Trillions of bacteria live in our intestines. They contribute to our immune system, digestive system, metabolism and many other essential health processes. Chocolate and cocoa are considered prebiotics rich in polyphenols. (Just in case, “probiotics” refers to the bacteria that benefits to our gut health, while “prebiotics” are the substances that “feed” these bacteria).

Cocoa affects gut bacteria ecosystems in that it mimics the effect of prebiotics and probiotics. Apparently, it helps increase the growth of “good” bacteria and inhibits the growth of “bad” bacteria. According to this study, an increase in Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli (“good” bacteria) was observed in subjects who consumed a cocoa-rich beverage. In addition, there was an apparent reduction in Clostridium histolyticum (“bad” bacteria) and in intestinal inflammation. It was also observed that “the interaction between polyphenols and intestinal microbiota is bidirectional.” This means that intestinal bacteria affect the absorption of polyphenols and, at the same time, these substances affect the growth of bacterial species in the intestine, either negatively or positively.

Finally, “good” bacteria can ferment certain fiber in dark chocolate into short-chain fatty acids such as butyrate and acetic acid. These fatty acids help defend against harmful microbes and strengthen the intestinal barrier against pathogens and invaders. In short, changes in the microbiota could positively affect the health of those who consume prebiotic substances, such as dark chocolate.

10. Can chocolate help prevent cancer?

Although more research is needed, it seems that the cocoa in chocolate may help inhibit the growth of cancer cells. As this paper states, “the exact anticancer mechanisms are poorly understood” when it comes to how chocolate may be associated with reduced cancer incidence.

It appears that the antioxidants (polyphenols) found in chocolate can help interrupt the initiation, promotion and progression of cancer. This is especially true for dark chocolate with 70% or more cocoa content.

The anti-inflammatory bioactive compounds in cocoa may also help reduce inflammation in the colon, a pontential mechanism in reducing colon cancer risk.

Is 100% chocolate good for you?

The Food and Drug Administration of the United States (FDA) defines chocolate categories with respect to its cocoa content or cocoa solids. The higher the percentage of cocoa solids, the more healthy flavonoids the chocolate has. To choose the healthiest dark chocolate, you have to check the label: it should ideally contain between 60 to 70 percent cocoa. These chocolates are often called bittersweet or extra bittersweet. In addition, they contain a small amount of sugar for flavor and a healthy amount of flavonoids.

Chocolate is classified as follows:

  • Unsweetened chocolate: It has 100 percent cocoa and no sugar. It is prepared with only cocoa beans, or a mixture of the beans with cocoa butter. It is sometimes considered too bitter to eat.
  • Bittersweet chocolate: Contains between 35 to 99 percent cocoa. It must contain at least 35 percent unsweetened chocolate and less than 12 percent milk solids. Here, you will find the widest category of chocolate, including products called: bittersweet, semi-sweet, dark, extra dark or extra bittersweet.
  • Sweet Chocolate: Must have between 15 to 34 percent cocoa. In addition, it must contain at least 15 percent unsweetened chocolate and less than 12 percent milk solids. Sometimes it is also called dark chocolate, although it has a lower percentage of cocoa solids than bittersweet chocolate.
  • Milk chocolate: Contains at least 10 percent unsweetened chocolate, 12 percent dairy solids and 3.39 percent milk fat. It is the type of chocolate most commonly consumed, and although it does contain antioxidants, the content is lower than those mentioned above.

Here is an infographic with a summary of chocolate classification according to its cocoa percentage.

is 100 chocolate good for you

How much chocolate should you eat a day?

You can enjoy the benefits of chocolate in moderation. The most common daily recommendation is 1-2 squares (1.5 to 3 oz) of high quality organic dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa. If you consume more than that amount, you may be consuming more energy than you need.

Also, if you have a specific health condition, always consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet.

Conclusion

So there you have it: the top 10 reasons why chocolate is good for you!

Now you know that you can enjoy this exquisite food. As we’ve seen, chocolate is full of important antioxidants, which are necessary to keep oxidative damage and disease at bay. Remember that dark chocolate is more nutrient dense than milk chocolate, since it has more dietary fiber, iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, potassium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium. In addition, dark chocolate is often less processed than milk chocolate.

Another thinkg to keep in mind is what I’ve repeated over and over again: that the higher the cocoa content, the more antioxidants chocolate has.

So if you suddenly get chocolate cravings, worry not. There’s definitely no harm in enjoying a square of dark chocolate or two! 

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