I am a chocolate fan. Not a chocoholic, although there have been times when that might have described me. However, I must confess that I’m a Cadbury’s Dairy Milk devotee; my son is Galaxy Boy. My father on the other hand, preferred dark chocolate, a trait that was incomprehensible to my mother and I, and with the benefit of age, I now realise that I grew up thinking that dark chocolate was a ‘man thing’. As it turns out, my father had the right idea, because science has proved that dark chocolate has specific health benefits, which means we can legitimately include it in a nutritious diet.
High cocoa content provides minerals
Dark chocolate, which should be organic and have at least 70% cocoa content to provide any positive effects on your health, is packed with antioxidants and is one of the best sources of them available to us. However, it must only be consumed in moderation, because a 100g bar does contain around 600 calories and moderate amounts of sugar. Having said that, a small amount adds some very helpful minerals to your diet, such as iron, magnesium, copper and manganese, plus potassium, zinc, selenium and dietary fibre.
But more about the antioxidants that destroy free radicals and help prevent cancers and other conditions. Dark chocolate is loaded with organic compounds that function as antioxidants. These include polyphenols, flavanols, catechins, among others. There are even more of these in dark chocolate than in blueberries and Acai berries, two of the fruits touted as being great for antioxidants.
Blood pressure goes down
This type of chocolate may also lower blood pressure, according to a handful of studies published in reputable medical journals. However, even they admit that the effect is slight, but still significant enough to have value. On the other hand, research shows that dark chocolate can improve several important risk factors for heart disease. A study by Japanese scientists published in the Journal of Nutrition showed that cocoa powder significantly decreased low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in men.
It reduces cholesterol
The upshot of the research into its effects on ‘bad’ cholesterol, is that cocoa consumption prevents cholesterol from clogging the arteries and so has the potential to reduce cardiovascular disease. And, there are several long-term observational studies that show a fairly drastic improvement. In a study of 470 elderly men, cocoa was found to reduce the risk of cardiovascular death by a massive 50% over a 15-year period. Another study revealed that eating chocolate two or more times per week lowered the risk of having calcified plaque in the arteries by 32%. And if you eat it more than five times per week, the risk of cardiovascular disease is reduced by 57%.
Prevents sun damage
Dark chocolate may also protect your skin from sun damage thanks to its flavonols. So, if you are planning a sunny vacation, start consuming the chocolate during the weeks before you plan to spend time sunbathing. But, this doesn’t mean we recommend ditching the sun cream; you will still need its protection.
Boosts brain function
And, finally, it also improves brain function. One study of healthy volunteers showed that 5 days of consuming high-flavanol cocoa improved blood flow to the brain. It may also help elderly people with cognitive impairment and its stimulants are thought to boost brain power in the short-term.
The advice from nutrition experts is this: consume a square or two after dinner daily and find a dark chocolate that is a high as possible in cocoa content, because it has the least sugar. It’s the tastiest way we can all improve our health.