Choc-Full of Surprises: 5 Benefits to Dark Chocolate
Today is National Chocolate Day! It’s observed annually on October 28. While there are many chocolate-specific related holidays throughout the year, National Chocolate Day celebrates all things chocolate. According to a 2018 survey by YouGov, chocolate is America’s favorite flavor, making it more than deserving of its own day of honor and celebration.
No introductions are needed for this highly treasured treat that dates to 2000 BC. At that time, the Maya from Central America, the first connoisseurs of chocolate, drank it as a bitter fermented beverage mixed with spices of wine. Today, the large bags of chocolate kisses that line your Halloween stash are the end result of many steps that begin as a cacao pod, a bean larger than the size of your hand. This plant is full of minerals and antioxidants. As a result, dark chocolate is rich in minerals, such as iron, magnesium, and zinc. The cocoa in dark chocolate also contains antioxidants called flavonoids which may provide several health benefits.
- Dark Chocolate is Full of Antioxidants
Because dark chocolate contains several compounds that possess antioxidant properties, such as flavanols and polyphenols, it helps neutralize free radicals and prevent oxidative stress. Oxidative stress refers to the damage that excessive amounts of free radicals can inflict on cells and tissues in the body, which contributes to the natural aging process. Over time, the effects of oxidative stress may also contribute to the development of a variety of health issues.
- Dark Chocolate May Help Reduce Heart Disease Risk
Regularly eating dark chocolate may help reduce the likelihood of developing heart disease. Some of the compounds in dark chocolate, specifically flavanols, affect two major risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure and high cholesterol. This is because the flavanols in dark chocolate stimulate nitric oxide production in the body. Nitric oxide causes blood vessels to dilate, or widen, which improved blood flow and lowers blood pressure. In fact, a 2015 study investigated the effects of chocolate consumption in 60 people with type II diabetes and high blood pressure. The research found that participants who ate 25 grams of dark chocolate daily for 8 weeks had a significantly lower blood pressure than those who ate the same quantity of white chocolate.
- Dark Chocolate has Anti-Inflammatory Effects
Inflammation is part of the body’s natural immune response to germs and other harmful substances. However, inflammation can damage cells and tissues and may increase the risk of some health conditions. Fortunately, dark chocolate contains compounds with anti-inflammatory properties that may help reduce inflammation in the body. In fact, a 2018 study showed that eating 30 grams of 84% dark chocolate each day for 8 weeks significantly reduced inflammatory biomarkers in people with type II diabetes.
- Dark Chocolate Helps Prevent Insulin Resistance
Insulin resistance occurs when the body’s cells stop responding to the hormone insulin. Insulin resistance causes abnormally high levels of blood glucose, which can lead to prediabetes and type II diabetes. A 6-month study from 2018 examined the relationship between regular dark chocolate consumption and blood glucose levels among certain individuals. The research findings suggest that eating 48 grams of 70% dark chocolate each day may help lower fasting glucose levels and reduce insulin resistance
- Dark Chocolate Increases Brain Function
Eating dark chocolate may help improve brain function and may help prevent neurodegenerative health issues. The findings of a small 2018 study suggest that the flavanols present in dark chocolate may help enhance neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to recognize itself, particularly in response to injury and disease. Another study from 2016 identified a positive association between regular chocolate consumption and cognitive performance.
There’s no need to feel guilty about indulging in this confection. Dark chocolate is a rich source of antioxidants and minerals and generally contains less sugar than milk chocolate.
So, go ahead and tear open that wrapper guilt-free. After all, it’s National Chocolate Day!
Want a guilt-free recipe? Try out this recipe below and let us know your thoughts!
Chocolate Chia Pudding
Total Time: Under 15 minutes
Serving Size: 2
If you want to indulge but not overindulge, we highly recommend this recipe for a Chocolate Chia Pudding. It’s great breakfast or as an afternoon pick-me-up. It’s a great way to get another antioxidant-rich superfood like maca, Peruvian ginseng into your diet.
- 2 cups full-fat coconut milk
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 tbsp raw cacao powder
- 2 tsp maca (optional)
- 2 tbsp raw sugar or honey
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1/8 tsp vanilla bean seeds OR 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
- ½ cup chia seeds
- Cacao nibs, for garnish optional
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the coconut milk, water, cacao powder, maca (if using), raw sugar or honey, salt, and vanilla bean seeds or vanilla extract until well combined
- Whisk in the chia seeds and let sit at room temperature for 5 minutes stirring every minute or so to make sure seeds and sweetener are evenly mixed
- Eat immediately, garnished with cacao nibs, or cover and store in fridge up to 4 days