Dark chocolate is not a guilty pleasure; it actually comes with many health benefits. Real dark chocolate—not processed and sweetened milk chocolate—is chock-full of incredible health benefits.
Some nutrients are destroyed in the process of making chocolate available for the general market. Make sure the chocolate you buy is within the healthy range. Check the label: chocolate with a 60 percent or higher cocoa content is packed full of nutrients and antioxidants. Often called bittersweet, it has minimal sugar. The best way to get all the nutrients from chocolate is simply to use unsweetened cocoa nibs. The bitter, crunchy, seed-like snack isn’t the best-tasting treat, but its nutritional profile makes it worthwhile.
1. Dark chocolate can help prevent stroke
A study recently done on Norfolk residents finds that chocolate has a huge impact on the likelihood of having a stroke.
The study compared people who frequently consumed chocolate with those who entirely abstained. They measured chocolate intake at the start of the study and tracked the people for decades, following their cardiovascular statistics.
The problem with studies done like this is that the results don’t conclusively link chocolate and lower incidence of stroke. Perhaps heavy chocolate consumers share similar habits that also reduce stroke. This study also found links between those who ate more chocolate and just having healthier habits in general than the other study group.
2. Dark Chocolate is good for your brain
Dark chocolate increases blood flow to the brain as well as to the heart, so it can help improve cognitive function and also helps reduce your risk of stroke.
Also dark chocolate contains several chemical compounds that have a positive effect on your mood and cognitive health. Chocolate contains phenylethylamine (PEA), the same chemical your brain creates when you feel like you’re falling in love. PEA encourages your brain to release endorphins, so eating dark chocolate will make you feel happier.
Dark chocolate also contains caffeine, a mild stimulant. However, dark chocolate contains much less caffeine than coffee. A 1.5-ounce bar of dark chocolate contains 27 mg of caffeine, compared to the 200 mg found in an eight-ounce cup of coffee.
3. It can improve eyesight
Forget carrots. Dark chocolate can improve your eyesight too, according to research published in the journal Physiology & Behavior. The researchers found that participants who consumed dark chocolate with 720 mg of cocoa flavanols experienced enhanced visual performance—like detecting motion and reading low contrast letters—likely due to the increased blood flow to the retina and brain.
4. Dark chocolate can help control your cough
The vagus nerve is a part of your brain, and its activation can trigger coughing fits. Scientists are looking into creating a medication for coughs that uses theobromine.
A study on chocolate’s effects as a cough suppressant found it to be more effective than common cold medicines, even ones containing codeine, a weak narcotic.
They tested this by giving subjects different cough medicines. One group received common cough medicine with codeine; the second group received a solution of theobromine and the third group was placebo. They were exposed to capsaicin (the chemical responsible for making chili peppers spicy.) Their intention was to see how much capsaicin was required to induce five coughs. Having one’s lungs exposed to capsaicin will usually cause even the most hardened chili-head to break into a coughing fit.
5. Dark chocolate is a huge source of antioxidants
Dark chocolate contains very high amounts of a number of potent antioxidants. A study linked calculated the Relative Antioxidant Capacity Index (RACI) by isolating free radicals and antioxidants extracted from chocolate. Free radicals are the prerequisite for cancer, and antioxidants can help destroy free radicals before they spread.
The resulting statistics show that chocolate’s antioxidants (at least, in vivo) are extremely effective at reducing free radicals. While they may behave differently in the body, relevant studies also show that chocolate is effective at battling free radicals in vitro.
6. Dark chocolate can aid against diabetes
The endothelium is extremely important in maintaining arterial health, and insulin resistance is the most commonly checked statistic to determine whether future diseases, like diabetes, will develop. Cocoa and its flavonoids help to positively modulate these systems.
Obviously, if you’re hoping to prevent diabetes, you’re going to want to eat low-sugar, dark chocolate.
7. It reduces inflammation
After you scarf it, “good” microbes in your gut feast on the chocolate, fermenting it into anti-inflammatory compounds that are good for your heart, according to research presented at the 2014 American Chemical Society meeting. Antioxidants and fiber present in cocoa powder isn’t fully digested until they reach the colon where the compounds are absorbed into the body, lessening inflammation within cardiovascular tissue and reducing the long-term risk of stroke.
8. Dark Chocolate is good for your heart
Studies show that eating a small amount of dark chocolate two or three times each week can help lower your blood pressure. Dark chocolate improves blood flow and may help prevent the formation of blood clots. Eating dark chocolate may also prevent arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).