The very real health benefits of dark chocolate
For years, all chocolate was cast off as junk food. But now, thanks to stacks of research, doctors and nutritionists know that dark chocolate can actually be very healthy – when eaten in moderation. "Dark chocolate, made from the cocoa bean, is rich in a class of plant nutrients called flavonoids," says Jennifer McDaniel, MS, RD, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "The main type of flavonoid with antioxidant qualities is flavonols, which have been shown to lower blood pressure, boost blood flow, and reduce blood clots."
Dark chocolate may even go as far as protecting against heart attack and stroke. A large Australian study from 2012 found that daily consumption of dark chocolate could prevent major cardiovascular events in people with risk factors for heart disease. Additionally, a German study published in 2010 tracked 20,000 people over eight years and found that those who ate one square of chocolate a day had 39 percent less chance of stroke and heart attack.
Beyond heart health, dark chocolate may also protect against diabetes. "Some studies have shown that the antioxidants in dark chocolate may help the body use its insulin more efficiently to control blood sugar," McDaniel says. It also has potential to make you smarter – at least in the short term. A British study found that the flavonols in chocolate boost blood flow to brain, which could aid alertness and cognition. Plus, dark chocolate has a modest amount of caffeine, along with the milder stimulant theobromine, making it a great all-natural pick-me-up.
Along with antioxidants, dark chocolate also contains healthy fats. Cocoa butter, the fatty part of cocoa beans, is the unsaturated type that's beneficial for your heart and cholesterol levels. But even the saturated fat in dark chocolate isn't so bad for you. "Dark chocolate contains stearic acid, a saturated fat that may have a neutral effect on blood cholesterol levels," McDaniel says.
Annie and I have been eating dark chocolate for many years, but to reap the benefits of dark chocolate, it must be consumed in moderation. Otherwise, it can do more harm than good.