Chocolate tends to get a bad rap, despite all the love given to it. Chocolate’s health benefits can be a bit confusing especially when it’s mixed with delicious milk and sugar. Let me break it down. Chocolate is made from cacao beans. Once the beans have been harvested, dried, and processed, the product is then referred to as cocoa. It is this cacao, or eventually, cocoa, in chocolate, especially dark chocolate, that contains the health benefits. The higher the cacao percentage in dark chocolate, the healthier it is for you. And who doesn’t want to be healthy?
Be wary that not all chocolate contains the health benefits discussed in this article. Many chocolates, especially white chocolate, milk chocolate, and flavored chocolate, contains little to no cacao. In other words, downing a Snickers bar because it is “good for you” is pure folly. Look for dark chocolate: the darker, the better. Cacao percentages of higher than 60 percent are going to have the most health benefits. Chances are, if it doesn’t list a percentage of cacao on the packaging, the health benefits are going to be minimal to none. This must always be weighed when considering the benefits of dark chocolate.
Dark Chocolate Benefits
One benefit of dark chocolate is that it can help lower your blood pressure. Science Daily cites a study in which the cardiovascular benefits of dark chocolate were nearly equal to that of 30 minutes of daily physical exercise. This is due to cacao containing flavanols. These flavanols dilate blood vessels and can help reduce blood pressure for those with higher blood pressure, but not for those with a healthy blood pressure. Keep in mind that this does not, however, mean you can forgo physical activity. You should still keep in touch with your physician and follow practices that support a healthy cardiovascular system.
Dark chocolate can help increase your levels of good cholesterol. Cacao contains saturated fats, but not the unhealthy kinds. This saturated fat contains stearic acid that does not raise the levels of “bad cholesterol” in the bloodstream. The natural fats in cacao (known as cacao butter) affect the body in a way similar to the healthy monosaturated fats in olive oil. Fats and cholesterol are not an evil to be removed from our lives. They are necessary, and healthy, additions to our diet. In the end, while dark chocolate does contain cholesterol, you can rest easy by telling yourself that it is certainly not the same type of cholesterol found in McDonald’s french fries.
Dark chocolate benefits include antioxidants. Antioxidants have always been a bit confusing for me, so I’m sure other people have been confused, too. Let me break it down. Antioxidants help protect cells against free radicals. These free radicals are molecules that damage your body’s cells and cause changes right down to the DNA, lipids (fats), and proteins. In other words: free radicals = bad; antioxidants = good. More and more evidence is building that antioxidants can help to slow or even help prevent the development of some cancers. Dark chocolate is an excellent source of antioxidants, just like fruits and vegetables. Some fruits even have less antioxidants than dark chocolate.
A reduction in cravings is one of the benefits of dark chocolate. Not only does dark chocolate have some pretty awesome health benefits, dark chocolate can help you to feel more full and reduce your cravings. On top of this, it does so with health benefits not found in grease-drenched fast food or that caramel-drizzled, sky-high piece of cheesecake does. When those sweet-tooth cravings strike, use dark chocolate as an alternative before you reach for those donuts. A smaller portion can leave you feeling more satisfied, meaning you can get rid of more calories, improve your cardiovascular health, and intake antioxidants all while getting that oh-so-very-nummy-almost-naughty treat of dark chocolate.
The best benefit of dark chocolate is its ability to make you happy. And it’s not just because it’s chocolate. In all honesty, milk chocolate makes me incredibly happy, but not for the same reason dark chocolate does. Dark chocolate contains phenethylamine, which releases endorphins. Phenethylamine is a chemical released when people fall in love. Theobromine, a mild stimulant in cacao, also contributes to the mood-boosting that occurs when people consume dark chocolate. Anandamide is another mood-boosting chemical in dark chocolate. On top of this, chocolate boosts levels of serotonin in the body. Another nugget of info: Women typically have lower serotonin levels when they menstruate. Get where I’m going with this?
Dark Chocolate Myths
Chocolate gives you acne.This myth isn’t entirely unfounded, yet it is a myth, nonetheless. Cacao and dark chocolate do not cause acne. Even junk food does not directly cause acne, though it is the sugar, fat, and additives in products that spur this myth on. Skin is often an indicator of overall health. Poor diet can show on your face. Cacao, though, has many health benefits, so keep on eating. The improved cardiovascular health might even help your skin look more radiant.
Chocolate causes weight gain. Cacao, the essence of dark chocolate, does not cause weight gain. The seed of truth here is that the additives that often accompany chocolate, such as sugars, butter fats, nuts, caramels, or what-have-you, are loaded with calories, lack nutritional value, and add fat. Typically, the more additives, the less cacao is present in the product. Instead, opt for high cacao percentages and fewer additives to get the health benefits of dark chocolate.
Chocolate will give you cramps. Caffeine may, for some women, make menstrual cramping worse. While cacao contains some caffeine and a stimulant known as theobromine, the amount is relatively minuscule. Some articles have linked the levels to be around that of a decaffeinated cup of coffee. Some believe dark chocolate is an aphrodisiac due to theobromine. Sadly, there is absolutely no scientific evidence to back this up. So, period or not, dark chocolate is still good for you, and it most likely won’t make your cramps worse.
Dark Chocolate Products
Endangered Species Black Panther. My first experience with this product was a break-up gift from a girl pal of mine. It was delicious. It was healthy, and one of the best features of Endangered Species chocolate isn’t even the chocolate; Endangered Species donates a portion of their profits to help protect endangered species such as the black panther. You get an awesome treat, amazing health benefits, and the chance to help out fluffy (if carnivorous) creatures at the same time.
Dagoba Organic Chocolate Eclipse. Dagoba offers organic dark chocolate, and it is oh-so-very-very-drool-worthy. In fact, Dagoba offers all kinds of organic chocolates, from milk chocolates to dark chocolates infused with lavender, lemon, ginger, hazelnuts, blueberries, mint, chai, and rosehips (and all of the health benefits from each of these). Whatever your taste is, you can find an organic chocolate (with all the health benefits of cacao) to fit your craving of the day. Did I mention that it’s super delicious?
Navitas Naturals (Organic) Cacao Powder. If straight-up chocolate bars aren’t your thing, cacao powder is another option. It contains all of the health benefits of cacao and dark chocolate, but without the addition of sugar and butter fat that go into chocolate bars. The less processed the cacao, the more health benefits are present in it. Sprinkle it onto ice cream, smoothies, pies, milk, chai, or anything else that can use a kick. You can find Navitas Naturals on Amazon.
Keep Dark Chocolate Healthy
Obviously you are now at least slightly familiar with the health benefits of dark chocolate. This is the part of the article where I bring you back down to earth and prevent you from blowing your entire paycheck and forgetting to eat your fruits and vegetables. Yes, dark chocolate has health benefits for you. Yes, dark chocolate can be added to your diet to boost your mood, lower your blood pressure, provide antioxidants, and more. Just always remember these two things: Chocolate often has many unhealthy additives (salt, sugar, butter fat, etc.) that can completely drown out any health benefits found in chocolate. Second, chocolate should be taken in moderation (think half ounce servings) and should never take the place of any exercise or healthy foods such as fruits and veggies. That said, go Homer Simpson style on that half ounce of dark chocolate.