Hello, my name is Dianne and I'm a chocoholic. Dark chocolate is my favorite food. There’s nothing quite like it – it’s rich, decadent, and delicious. And it actually can be quite nutritious! In fact, there are many health benefits of chocolate.
What is Chocolate?
Chocolate actually comes from beans (the seeds of the theobroma cacao tree to be exact), and as with most plant-based foods, it’s highly nutritious. Not all chocolate is created equal though. When buying chocolate, you should skip those that contain milk, lots of sugar, or a long list of ingredients. High percentage dark chocolate and raw cacao are what you want to look for. I also recommend making sure your chocolate is organic.
Cacao vs. Cocoa
Cacao is made by cold pressing the raw cocoa beans. It’s said to have many health benefits, including reducing the risk of heart disease and lowering insulin resistance. You can find cacao as cacao nibs, cacao butter, and cacao powder.
Cocoa powder comes from beans that has been roasted at a high temperature, which destroys some of its nutrients and diminishes some of the health benefits.
10 Health Benefits of Chocolate
It's Nutrient Dense
High quality dark chocolate is rich in omega 3 fatty acids, fiber, protein, iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, and selenium, as well as other trace minerals.
It's a Great Source of Antioxidants
Dark chocolate is loaded with antioxidants, such as polyphenols, flavanols, catechins. One study showed that cocao and dark chocolate contained more antioxidants than any other fruit.
It May Balance Cholesterol Levels
Studies have shown that the powerful antioxidants in dark chocolate can raise HLD levels (“good cholesterol”) and lower LDL levels (“bad cholesterol”).
It May Lower Blood Pressure
The flavanols in dark chocolate can stimulate the lining of arteries to produce nitric oxide, which send signals to the arteries to relax. When the arteries are relaxed, blood flows easier and blood pressure is reduced.
It Can be Good for the Heart
Several long-term observational studies have shown drastic improvements in heart health in those that eat chocolate on a regular basis. Balanced cholesterol levels and a lower blood pressure are obviously good for the heart. Chocolate is also known to lowered the risk of having calcified plaque in the arteries.
It Protects the Skin from the Sun
The high levels of flavonoids in chocolate are known to protect against sun-induced damage, improve blood flow to the skin, and increase skin density and hydration
It May Improve Brain Function
The high amount of flavanol in cocoa boosts blood flow to the brain, which improves performance and alertness. It’s also been shown to significantly improve cognitive function in the elderly.
It Can Improve Feelings of Wellbeing
Chocolate contains tryptophan, which is a building block for the feel-good hormone serotonin. It also contains phenethylamine, which is a stimulant that's released in the brain when we fall in love.
It May Lead to Weight Loss
This may sound counterintuitive, but a little dark chocolate in your diet might be helpful to your waistline. Studies have found that dark chocolate is rather filling, cutting down on cravings for sweet, salty, and fatty foods.
It Can Reduce Stress
A Swiss study found that when people suffering from anxiety ate an ounce and a half of dark chocolate every day for two weeks, their stress hormone levels were significantly reduced and the metabolic effects of stress were diminished.
The health benefits of chocolate don’t mean that you should be eating large quantities of it though, as it is relatively high in calories. A little bit of chocolate a day goes a long way, so enjoy it sparingly.
I've put together a list of my favorite chocolate desserts that are perfect for Valentine's Day, as well as every day!
If you want to learn more about chocolate, you might want to take a look at Vegan Chocolate by Fran Costigan, Superfoods for Life: Cacao by Matt Ruscigano with Joshua Ploeg, and Naked Chocolate by David Wolfe.