Chocolate is one guilty pleasure that merits indulgence, given you are indulging in the right kind of chocolate. Enter dark chocolate! Also known as “black chocolate,” this particular variety is made from roasted cocoa beans of the cacao tree, fat, and sugar.
Unlike regular chocolate, dark chocolate has little to no milk and is also less sweet. In fact, the best quality dark chocolate-with cocoa percentages ranging from 70 percent to 99 percent-has a characteristic bittersweet taste.
As dark chocolate feels just as decadent and tastes just as great as its nutritionally lesser siblings, there are many takers for it. In fact, some would even say that the flavor of dark chocolate is significantly richer than the average white or milk chocolate due to the presence of higher levels of cocoa.
Thus, you can enjoy this healthy treat to satiate your candy fix or add it to smoothies or homemade cakes and muffins.
There are several studies from different parts of the world that would vouch for the inherent nutritional goodness of dark chocolate. Made from the seed of the cacao tree, it is one of the best sources of antioxidants on the planet.
However great the merits of dark chocolate are, they do not give you the license to go overboard with its consumption. The nutritional perks notwithstanding, dark chocolate also has generous amounts of calories and fats that one should never lose sight of.
Excessive dark chocolate can, therefore, prove to be counterproductive for your overall well-being. It might be wise to cut back on other sweets and snacks to balance the calories that you are deriving from your chocolate intake.
A little self-restraint will help you reap the myriad impressive health benefits that dark chocolate has to offer, without the added guilt. Also, stick to premium-quality and organic brands that have a 70 percent or higher cocoa content.
Nutritional Content of Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate possesses a greater concentration of antioxidants than the other kinds of chocolates, such as the milk and white varieties. Other healthy nutrients in dark chocolate are soluble fiber, potassium, manganese, zinc, selenium, copper, magnesium, and iron.
Mostly containing the healthy kinds of saturated and monounsaturated fats with a minimal amount of polyunsaturated fat, the fatty acid composition of dark chocolate further adds to its health-promoting charm.
Nutritional value of 100 gram of Dark Chocolate (70-85% cocoa solids)
- Water – 1.37 g
- Energy – 598 kcal
- Protein – 7.79 g
- Total lipid (fat) –42.63 g
- Carbohydrate – 45.90 g
- Fiber –10.9 g
- Sugars – 23.99 g
- Calcium, Ca – 73 mg
- Iron, Fe – 11.90 mg
- Magnesium, Mg – 228 mg
- Phosphorus, P – 308 mg
- Potassium, K – 715 mg
- Sodium, Na –20 mg
- Zinc, Zn – 3.31 mg
- Niacin – 1.054 mg
- Vitamin B-6 – 0.038
- Vitamin A –2 mcg
- Vitamin E – 0.59 mg
- Vitamin K – 7.3 mcg
Precautions and Risk Factors Involved with Cocoa
- The caffeine and other stimulants found in cocoa can trigger side effects such as increased urination, nervousness, sleeplessness, and a rapid heartbeat as a result of excessive consumption.
- Taking cocoa in large amounts can lead to allergic skin reactions, constipation, and induce a migraine attack. Moreover, it has also been associated with digestive issues such as including nausea, stomach rumbling, intestinal discomfort, and flatulence as well as a worsening of IBS symptoms and diarrhea.
- Excessive consumption of cocoa during pregnancy is ill-advised given its caffeine content which can penetrate the placenta producing fetal blood concentrations similar to the mother’s levels. The stipulated daily intake of caffeine for pregnant women is not supposed to exceed 200 mg, as per some experts.
- Even during the breastfeeding phase, mothers are advised to keep their cocoa intake within stipulated bounds. Excessive consumption of chocolate by nursing mothers, which figured at 16 oz per day, was found to make the baby irritable and have too frequent bowel movements. This reaction can be attributed to the caffeine that made its way into the infant’s system through the mother’s milk.
Reasons Why Dark Chocolate is Good for Your Health
Here are 10 health benefits of dark chocolate.
1. Relieves Stress
To relieve stress or lift a low mood, you can always rely on dark chocolate. It helps to increase the levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which acts as a natural antidepressant.
Research done by scientists from the Nestle Research Center in Switzerland and published online in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Proteome Research confirmed that the chemical compounds in dark chocolate play a key role in improving the disposition of people who experience higher levels of stress.
Another study published in the International Journal of Health Sciences found that consumption of about 1.4 ounces of dark and milk chocolate daily throughout 2 weeks engendered a positive impact on the mood of highly stressed females by mitigating the level of stress hormones.
In this regard, chocolate containing more than 85 percent cocoa is considered most potent. Plus, dark chocolate has magnesium that helps fight stress, fatigue, depression, and irritability.
2. Lowers Cholesterol Level
The cocoa in dark chocolate has been shown to reduce the level of LDL, or low-density lipoprotein (the bad cholesterol), in the blood that can clog the veins and inner walls of the arteries and inhibit proper functioning.
The powerful antioxidants in dark chocolate also prevent the oxidization of LDL, in turn reducing the risk of heart attacks or strokes.
Additionally, the cocoa content in dark chocolates may end up increasing your level of good cholesterol, or HDL or high-density lipoprotein, if clinical studies are to be believed. This can mainly be attributed to the obromine, one of the major components found in cocoa.
Low LDL and high HDL levels can together reduce the risk of cardiac disease, in particular, coronary atherosclerosis and heart attacks.
So, eating chocolate can be good for your heart!
3. Reduces Blood Pressure
Dark chocolate can also reduce high blood pressure. Flavanol, a flavonoid present in cocoa, helps lower blood pressure and improve blood flow to your heart.
The flavanol in dark chocolate stimulates the endothelium, the lining of arteries, to produce nitric oxide. Nitric oxide sends signals to the arteries to relax, which lowers resistance to blood flow and thus reduces blood pressure.
With lower blood pressure, there is also less chance of suffering from many types of heart diseases such as heart failure, atrial fibrillation, and atherosclerosis. It can even reduce the risk of cognitive decline, dementia, and stroke.
Simply eat a small piece of dark chocolate daily to lower your blood pressure. Be sure to choose dark chocolate that has at least 70 percent cocoa.
4. Prevents Stroke
Eating dark chocolate in moderation regularly can even lower the chance of stroke in later life. This is due to its high level of flavonoids, a type of antioxidant. Flavonoids can reduce blood stickiness and prevent blood clotting, which in turn helps stave off heart attacks and strokes.
Researchers at Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute studied more than 37,000 men between the ages of 45 and 79 for about 10 years. They found that those who ate about 2.2 ounces per week had a 17 percent lower risk of having a stroke during that time period compared with those who ate little or no chocolate.
To improve blood flow to the brain and cut the risk of stroke, stick to the guideline of 1 or 2 squares daily, or try mixing pure cacao powder with some stevia and almond milk for a hot cocoa treat instead.
5. Boosts Brain Power
Dark chocolate also works as a brain fodder for enhanced cognitive functioning. According to a study done at the University of Nottingham, consuming dark chocolate can boost blood flow to the brain for up to three hours. This, in turn, improves short-term memory and general alertness level for short periods.
Flavanol, found in dark chocolate, also improves the brain function of people suffering from sleep deprivation and even delays the effects of aging by increasing circulation. Plus, the cocoa in dark chocolate engenders a positive impact on other cognitive abilities, such as concentration, response time, and memory recall.
6. Aids Weight Loss
One ounce of dark chocolate with between 70 percent and 85 percent cocoa, three times a week can help you lose extra body weight. One possible reason is the high fiber content, which helps keep you feeling full for a longer time period.
According to a study published in Nutrition and Diabetes, eating dark chocolate in moderation gives you a more filling effect and lessens your cravings for fatty, sweet, and salty foods.
It’s more than likely then that nibbling on a bit of dark chocolate can help you stay the healthy course when you’re trying to shed those extra pounds. When eaten in small portions, dark chocolate can satiate your cravings and prevent you from reaching out for unhealthy, calorie-dense junk food.
7. Keeps Skin Healthy
Moderate amounts of dark chocolate in your diet can also help keep your skin healthy, glowing, and flawless. The several antioxidants in dark chocolate protect the skin from free radicals, which cause oxidative damage to the skin cells and speed up skin aging.
Moreover, the flavonoids in dark chocolate safeguard your skin against the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays, one of the main causes of conditions like sunburn and skin cancer.
Plus, the cocoa extract present in dark chocolate helps reduce skin roughness and scaling as well as improves the skin’s hydration and complexion.
8. Heals Persistent Coughing
If you are coughing a lot and want an easy solution, try dark chocolate. It contains a chemical known as theobromine that helps curb coughing by relaxing the nerve that triggers coughs in the first place.
Researchers from the British National Health Service administered two doses of theobromine daily for two weeks to 300 patients hospitalized for a chronic cough. They found that 60 percent of the people taking this compound got relief from their coughing condition.
These findings were further corroborated by another study done at Imperial College in London which engendered similar results.
Also, dark chocolate caused no adverse effects and the cardiovascular and central nervous systems were not affected. Unlike over-the-counter cough medicines, dark chocolate helps you recover from a cough without the unwanted side effect of making you drowsy. So, the next time you have a cough, treat yourself to some dark chocolate!
9. Treats Diarrhea
Scientists at Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute have confirmed that dark chocolate can ease diarrhea symptoms.
Cocoa beans contain a large number of chemicals called flavonoids that bind to and inhibit the protein in the intestines called CFTR, which regulates fluid secretion in the small intestine. This results in quick relief from diarrhea symptoms.
The next time you suffer from diarrhea, eat some dark chocolate with high cocoa content. The more flavonoids a dark chocolate contains, the quicker the remedy will work.
10. Controls Blood Sugar
The cocoa in dark chocolate may also help prevent diabetes.
An Italian study done in 2005 found that regular consumption of dark chocolate increases insulin sensitivity, which means the body becomes more responsive to the insulin signal that allows glucose to go into the cell and not stay around in the blood.
On top of that, the flavonoids present in dark chocolate increase nitric oxide production, which helps reduce insulin resistance and helps your body use insulin efficiently.
Also, dark chocolate can help control blood sugar levels among people who are diabetic. It ranks low on the glycemic index, which means it will not spike your sugar levels. However, for diabetics, it is recommended to eat sugar-free dark chocolate, which can be easily found on the market.
Diabetics are especially advised to opt for dark chocolates with a cocoa-intensive composition as that would translate to lesser levels of sugar in it. Thus, the higher the cocoa, the lower the sugar, the better the chocolate is for you.
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