The Rich, Chocolaty Taste of Good Health

Do you want to justify your daily chocolate intake? Check out these 6 surprising health benefits of dark chocolate.

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I don’t know why but there is just something about dark chocolate that is so satisfying. The rich, full and robust flavors combined with just enough sweetness are the qualities that differentiate it from the rest of the pack.

It easily quenches my sweet tooth and it doesn’t make me crave more sugar like the milk chocolate candy bars do. Since this newfound love for dark chocolate, I have found myself becoming a connoisseur, picking up a new brand or variation whenever I come across one.

With this daily intake of dark chocolate, fitting perfectly into my diet might I add, I still get strange looks from people because there are some out there that think you cannot be healthy and eat chocolate every day.

With these naysayers in the forefront of my mind I delved deep to find the health benefits of dark chocolate so I could refute any of those that thought I was doing damage to my body. Also by doing so, I gave myself a little piece of mind I am actually doing my body a favor by eating dark chocolate.

1. Dark chocolate acts as an antioxidant. Dark chocolate is high in flavanols which are also found in red wine, green tea, strawberries and lychee. Antioxidants are classified as polyphenols and Flavonoids (flavanols is a subtype of flavonoids).

2. Decreases blood clotting by inhibiting platelet activation and aggregation. It keeps our cells smooth and disc shaped, instead of an irregular shape which can stick together and build up to form a clot.

3. Dark chocolate reduces blood pressure by increasing the release of Nitric Oxide (NO), which acts as a vasodilator to relax the blood vessels to let blood flow more easily.

4. A study showed those with higher dark chocolate consumption had a lower relative risk for having a stroke. Impaired release of NO can cause the blood vessels to constrict and impede blood flow. This can cause endothelial dysfunction which can then lead to inflammation, stenosis, blood clot formation and an occlusion and then eventually a heart attack or stroke. So by consuming dark chocolate, it increases NO production, which can help lower your risk of having a stroke.

5. Decreases insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is characterized by decreased endothelial NO bioavailability with impaired endothelium-dependent vasorelaxation and increased oxidative stress. Insulin resistance was decreased by improvement in endothelial function.

6. Dark Chocolate improves insulin sensitivity by improving β-cell function. β-cells are cells in the pancreas which store and release insulin.

Now that you know some of the health benefits of eating dark chocolate, we need to get down to the questions that everyone wants to know the answer to. How much dark chocolate do I need to eat and what percentage of cacao does it need to be?

The higher the percentage of cacao, the more flavanols and antioxidant powers the chocolate contains. The threshold seems to sit around 49g of at least 71% cacao. Now you wonder, how much is 49g. Not everyone has a food scale that they can whip out on a whim so I’ll give you an example.

Most of the fancy, dark chocolate bars come in a bar a little larger than your average Hershey’s chocolate bar. On average those bars weigh around 100g (or 3.5oz). So to get the health benefits of dark chocolate you would need to eat roughly half of the big bar of chocolate.

Now you have another dilemma on hand, do I have enough calories saved up to eat half of this dark chocolate bar every day (~300-350 calories per 50g) that I do not gain weight and still reap the health benefits of dark chocolate.

If you fail to take into account the new calories from the chocolate into your daily intake, you could inadvertently set yourself up to be gaining 1/2 pound of weight per week, that’s 26 pounds in a year. The composition of that weigh (fat/muscle) is entirely dependent upon the other aspects of your daily intake and exercise regimen (or lack thereof).

The moral of the story is, yes you can reap great benefits from eating dark chocolate daily, but you must eat the right kind of dark chocolate and in the right doses for you to receive above said benefits, all while fitting it into a balanced and controlled diet to negate unwanted weight gain.

AM J Clin Nutr 2008;88:58-63

European Heart Journal; 2010; doi:10.1093/eurheartj/ehq068

The Journal of Nutrition; 2008; 138(9):1671-1676

Am J Clin Nutr 2008;88:58-63

Food Chem 2010;120:109-112

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