Can Chocolate REALLY be Healthy?
Lucky for this mama, the answer is actually YES! And in perfect timing for the month of February with Valentine's day coming up so quickly! When most of us think about health foods we don't really think about considering chocolate as an option. Fortunately, for those of us who LOVE chocolate, dark chocolate is actually a SUPERFOOD! WHO KNEW!?!
When you eat the right kind of dark chocolate, and in moderation of course, you can actually benefit from it in a variety of ways. Here are some of the following ways that dark chocolate can provide you health benefit:
A little history first:
Throughout history, dark chocolate has been used to treat a variety of ailments and has been somewhat of a "health tonic". Cacao , as it is called before it becomes that delicious chocolate bar, has been thought to be so powerful that consumption was reserved only for priests, high government officials, military officers, and great warriors. It was actually considered UNSUITABLE FOR WOMEN, CHILDREN, and the LOWER CLASSES due to its potency (the nerve... ;) ). There was belief that the cacao bean was a sacred food handing down by the gods to provide stamina, heal numerous diseases and reduce fatigue! (1)
I would say God certainly blessed us with such a wonderful and delicious treat among all of the other fruitful things he provides on this earth to help sustain our earthly bodies! And I sure am grateful for it on my tougher #momlife days. . .
So what is it EXACTLY about dark chocolate that makes it so wonderful and cherished? Lets DIVE in to the RESEARCH BACKED FACTS!
Dark chocolate contains powerful antioxidant compounds including epicatechin, catechin, and procyanidins, along with flavonoids, and polyphenols. We talk alot about antioxidants which are responsible for halting DNA damage, decreasing inflammation, regulating glucose levels, SLOWING AGING (AMEN!) and more!
1. Can help lower Blood pressure and Improve Heart Health
Wow, so not only does dark chocolate make you feel blissful when you consume it (ok, maybe thats just me) but also can benefit your heart and blood pressure levels!
A study done in 2011 showed that the compound prostacyclin in dark chocolate is able to help lower blood pressure by increasing vasodilation, which is the opening and loosening of your arteries and blood vessels.(2) In addition however, another study done in March of 2018 revealed that higher chocolate intake is associated with a lower risk of future cardiovascular events! (3).
In history , the Kuna Indians of the San Blas islands of Panama consumed an average of three 10 oz cups of cocoa beverage daily and consequently had a prevalence of 2.2% of the population with hypertension and blood pressure did not increase at all with age! (2) This tells us that comparatively they had significantly lower prevalence of hypertension, heart attacks and stroke, compared to those on the mainland. Id say pretty good examples of dark chocolate benefits at work!
2. Fights aging
I mean... need I say more... ;) But really, as I mentioned above with the work of antioxidants that dark chocolate is LOADED with, these compounds help to fight DNA damage that causes aging symptoms like wrinkles, graying hair and disease. Could THIS be Jennifer Aniston's secret to NEVER seeming to age even since her days on Friends?? Hmmm.
The research DOES show us that just a single serving of cacao contains more phenolic antioxidants than most foods and more antioxidants than many Americans even get on an average day! (2) It also shows us that the polyphenols and flavonoids in dark chocolate can help protect your skin from UV damage, which is a HUGE factor in preventing skin aging (but still... don't forget the sunscreen...).
3. Reduces Cholesterol
Something I hear about ALL THE TIME, in my office especially in my older community of practice members is high cholesterol. Many times this can be helped with simple diet changes but what can we do to not get there in the first place? Well, studies show that just one week of dark chocolate consumption was enough to improve the lipid profiles and decrease platlet reactivities for both men AND women. Much due to the fact that cocoa butter in dark chocolate contains some of the same heart-healthy fatty acids found in olive oil. (4)
4. Improves Brain function
I can attest to this one personally. Especially on those days I'm feeling a little tired and foggy and cant seem to focus. Dark chocolate has been studies for its ability to boost cognitive function. It does so by improving cerebral blood flow thanks to its high flavanol content. This study done in 2008, showed that intake of flavonoid-rich foods like chocolate, wine, and tea, resulting in improved cognitive performance, especially in elderly patients (5)
Another study in Nature Neuroscience found that flavanols in chocolate could prevent and even reverse age related memory decline. (6)
5. Anti-Diabetic Effects
Here's another health issue that I see come through a lot. Research shows that dark chocolate improves glucose balance, insulin sensitivity, and inflammation markers which are ALL SYMPTOMS THAT CONTRIBUTE TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF DIABETES. One study, found that these benefits only occurred when participants ate dark chocolate. Those who consumed white chocolate received no benefit (2)
Interestingly enough, a study in Japan found that the risk of developing diabetes was reduced 35% among men who consumed “chocolate snack pieces” once per week or more versus those who never or almost never ate chocolate. (2)
6. Potentially reduce the risk of Developing Cancer
Since the loss of my own mother to cancer, this can be a touchy subject, especially among those who have also had a loss of someone special to them to cancer. But, this has also created a fire in my soul to help find all things healthy that can prevent this from ever happening to anyone else in my own family or community. Know more, do better.
So, to date, studies have confirmed that chronic inflammation contributed to factors that increase your risk of developing cancer, including DNA mutations and cancer cell growth. Research has confirmed that the antioxidants in dark chocolate have a strong ability to fight the DNA damage that could lead to cancer development, as well as reduce certain inflammation enzymes that could encourage its growth (2)
7. Reduce the Risk of Developing Neurological Diseases
As chiropractors, we know that we live and express our lives through this nervous system and appreciate its importance and significance to our overall health and well being! So on top of regular chiropractic care, here's another health benefit to keep that nervous system flowing! Flavonoids have been shown to offer significant protection for the neurons in your brain and nervous system. Specifically, they reduce neuroinflammation, which has been found to be a major cause of the development of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, their ability to increase cerebral blood flow encourages the growth of new neurons in the hippocampus, which processes memory (2)
8. Increase satiety and reduce appetite
Don't yet take all chocolate out of that diet! (and go a head and add it back in if you nixed it for your new years resolution ;) ). Research shows us that dark chocolate can actually help keep your cravings at bay. Even just the smell of dark chocolate reduces appetite and improves satiety. (2)
So then how the heck do I choose the best dark chocolate???
DO NOT FRET! This is not a difficult task. Obviously not ALL chocolate is created equal and if you want to get the true benefits you will want to STAY CLEAR of ANY of the candy bar varieties (even if they are "gluten free" or "paleo".
The #1 Rule: Choose a bar that contains at least 75% cacao content. This ensures minimal added sugars so you will get the bittersweet goodness without all the damaging effects of sugar. You can find some great organic brands at Hyvee in the health market section or in a Whole Foods store, etc.
#2 Rule: MORE does NOT equal better: Most of the studies above only used a moderate amount of dark chocolate consumption. This would be like 1 square of dark chocolate per day, or a tablespoon of two dark cacao made into a hot chocolate drink (just don't add any sugar). Getting in a dose of dark chocolate at least 3x per week to boost antioxidant levels should be sufficient enough to cash in on the many benefits of this true superfood!
#3. Cacao DOES NOT equal Cocoa.
Remember these are just a FEW of the surprising benefits that dark chocolate can provide! There are many more!
I hope this was a fun, informative and entertaining read for you this February right before Valentines Day. So, let those significant others know to go ahead and get you the dark chocolate this holiday so you can surely reap ALL the benefits!