What are the health benefits of dark chocolate? Just the best news that chocolate lovers could hope to hear (short of a way to remove all the calories without altering the taste)!
Now you don’t have to feel bad because it tastes s-o-o-o-o good, anymore. You can point to scientific studies that show it…
- improves your mood (does it ever!)
- lowers high blood pressure
- increases circulation
- fights aging
- soothes a cough
- can reduce cholesterol
- boosts your brain power
- high in antioxidants
Sound too good to be true? It isn’t. These benefits are real, accessible, and a great reason (excuse) to eat dark chocolate.
Dark Chocolate Lowers Blood Pressure
Dark chocolate — not white chocolate — lowers high blood pressure, say Dirk Taubert, MD, PhD, and colleagues at the University of Cologne, Germany. Their report appears in the Aug. 27 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.
But that’s no license to go on a chocolate binge. Eating more dark chocolate can help lower blood pressure — if you’ve reached a certain age and have mild high blood pressure, say the researchers. But you have to balance the extra calories by eating less of other things.
High blood pressure is a well known risk factor for heart disease. It is also one of the most common causes of kidney failure, and a significant contributor to many kinds of dementia and cognitive impairment. Studies have shown that consuming a small bar of dark chocolate daily can reduce blood pressure in people with mild hypertension.
Why are people with risk factors for heart disease sometimes told to take a baby aspirin every day? The reason is that aspirin thins the blood and reduces the likelihood of clots forming (clots play a key role in many heart attacks and strokes). Research performed at the department of nutrition at the University of California, Davis, found that chocolate thins the blood and performs the same anti-clotting activity as aspirin. “Our work supports the concept that the chronic consumption of cocoa may be associated with improved cardiovascular health,” said UC Davis researcher Carl Keen.
How much chocolate would you have to eat to obtain these benefits? Less than you might think. According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, adding only half an ounce of dark chocolate to an average American diet is enough to increase total antioxidant capacity 4 percent, and lessen oxidation of LDL cholesterol.
Why, then, has chocolate gotten such a bum reputation? It’s the ingredients we add to it. Nearly all of the calories in a typical chocolate bar are sugar and fat.
As far as fats go, it’s the added fats that are the difficulty, not the natural fat (called cocoa butter) found in chocolate. Cocoa butter is high in saturated fat, so many people assume that it’s not good for your cardiovascular system. But most of the saturated fat content in cocoa butter is stearic acid, which numerous studies have shown does not raise blood cholesterol levels. In the human body, it acts much like the monounsaturated fat in olive oil.
Milk chocolate, on the other hand, contains added butterfat which can raise blood cholesterol levels. And it has less antioxidants and other beneficial phytochemicals than dark chocolate.
Does chocolate contribute to acne? Milk chocolate has been shown to do so, but I’ve never heard of any evidence incriminating dark chocolate.
Dark chocolate is also healthier because it has less added sugar. I’m sure you don’t need another lecture on the dangers of excess sugar consumption. But if you want to become obese and dramatically raise your odds of developing diabetes, heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, foods high in sugar (including high fructose corn syrup) are just the ticket.
Antioxidants in Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate — but not milk chocolate or dark chocolate eaten with milk — is a potent antioxidant, report Mauro Serafini, PhD, of Italy’s National Institute for Food and Nutrition Research in Rome, and colleagues. Their report appears in the Aug. 28 issue of Nature. Antioxidants gobble up free radicals, destructive molecules that are implicated in heart disease and other ailments.
“Our findings indicate that milk may interfere with the absorption of antioxidants from chocolate … and may therefore negate the potential health benefits that can be derived from eating moderate amounts of dark chocolate.”
Translation: Say “Dark, please,” when ordering at the chocolate counter. Don’t even think of washing it down with milk. And if health is your excuse for eating chocolate, remember the word “moderate” as you nibble.