7 Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate

Nothing complements a beautiful view and reinvigorates you for the rest of your hike like a hunk of dark chocolate melting in your mouth.

Take a bar along on your hike of the Blue Ridge Pkwy for a delicious snack that complements your healthy lifestyle.

Is Dark Chocolate Good for You?

If there is one confection most associated with joy, celebration, and satisfaction, it’s chocolate! From delicately curled shavings on top of elegant cakes, a delectable dip for fruit, or a mug of steaming hot chocolate on a cold winter’s day, there is no denying that chocolate brings us comfort and delight.

Chocolate has a long history and was used by the Aztecs in Mesoamerica for various ailments and by the Maya people of Central America who drank it as a bitter fermented beverage mixed with spices or wine.

An estimated 1 billion people enjoy chocolate each day. You may have heard that dark chocolate, specifically that above 70%, can positively impact your health. Some even call dark chocolate a “functional food” because of its many health benefits.  We’ve all heard about the cocoa bean’s antioxidant properties provided by polyphenols, but did you know that these natural properties have positive relationships with cardiovascular health and some degenerative diseases?

Continue reading to find out how this beloved confection may benefit your health as you get lost in the joyful sensation of the silky-smooth texture as it slowly melts on your tongue.

1. Improved Heart Health

Our bodies are not immune to the stresses of life and anything we can do to help our bodies function better is certainly a good thing. So, go ahead and treat yourself. Dark chocolate contains polyphenols with flavanols that are rich in nitric oxide which relaxes blood vessels. Relaxed blood vessels increase the flow of oxygen helping lower blood pressure, but the benefits to your heart don’t end there! Increased blood flow acts as a preventative measure against cardiovascular disease by keeping blood platelets from becoming sticky, moving blood more efficiently to your vital organs, reducing your risk of blood clots, and helping control cholesterol.

2. Rich in Antioxidants

Flavanols are antioxidants that are two to three times more abundant in dark chocolate solids than they are in milk chocolate. Antioxidants are desirable for the active role they play in preventing or delaying some types of cell damage such as the early occurrence of aging and some types of cancer by removing destructive free radicals from the body. Free radicals adversely alter DNA, adversely alter lipids, and trigger several human diseases.

3. Protects Your Skin

Cocoa is known for its natural bitterness which is attributed to high levels of flavanols. The improved blood flow flavanols provide for the heart also benefits the skin by way of improved dermal blood flow. The skin benefits from improved blood flow via faster healing of cuts and scrapes and through increased photoprotection from the sun’s damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays which can lead to patchy, superficial reddening of the skin.

4. Regulates Blood Sugar

One of the flavanols found in dark chocolate, epicatechin, supports cells by making them stronger. This flavonoid has been shown in short-term studies to support the processes that increase the body’s sensitivity to insulin which in turn leads to a long-term reduction of the risk of developing diabetes in the future.

5. Improves HDL (Good Cholesterol) and Protects Against LDL (Bad Cholesterol)

Although dark chocolate contains a fair amount of saturated fat which is generally associated with high cholesterol, it is believed that its abundance of heart-protecting flavanols offset the drawback of the saturated fat. Cocoa’s polyphenols inhibit lipid peroxidation by free radicals. Lipid peroxidation can inhibit metabolic processes and cause undesirable inflammatory responses. Polyphenols also help reduce oxidation of the bad cholesterol, low-density lipoproteins, or LDL cholesterol. Left unchecked, LDL oxidation can contribute to the development of atherosclerosis which is a buildup of plaques in the arteries.

6. Promotes Brain Health & Improved Cognitive Function

The increased blood flow flavonoids provide help with cognition by increasing blood flow to the brain which assists in deterring the processes that lead to degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Its neurobiological activity helps to protect and even regenerate neurons which supports memory protection. It is thought that the role flavanols play in increasing blood flow to the brain also helps with visual-spatial awareness and reaction time.

7. Boosts Your Mood

How can nibbling on something as delightful as dark chocolate help to boost your mood? It turns out that the polyphenolic compounds it contains help lower cortisol, a stress-related hormone, and can also help modulate mood swings. A study published in January 2022 found that participants who ate 85% cocoa dark chocolate daily (10 g of chocolate each time, three times per day, at the same times each day for three weeks) experienced positively altered moods linked to the 85% dark chocolate’s prebiotic effect in the gut bacteria. So, if stress is eating at you, take a few bites of dark chocolate and see if that doesn’t help improve your mindset.

Are There Risks to Eating Dark Chocolate?

As with any diet-related topic, there are a few things of which you should be aware, especially the temptation to overindulge. You should not feel guilty when reaching for some dark chocolate due to its numerous benefits, just be mindful to moderate your intake — some suggest that as little as 1oz three times a week is enough to provide dark chocolate’s health benefits while limiting your consumption of sugar and fats.

Another thing to consider when choosing your chocolate is potential exposure to unhealthy levels of lead and cadmium. In 2022 Consumer reports released the results of testing and the findings revealed that some brands of chocolate have higher levels of these heavy metals than others, so choose your chocolate wisely.

There is no doubt that dark chocolate can be part of an overall healthy lifestyle. If you have a dairy allergy, remember that dark chocolate has much less milk in it than milk chocolate so it may be easier for you to digest. Dark chocolate also contains less caffeine than coffee, so if you are trying to reduce your caffeine intake, you might consider swapping that cup of coffee for a little chocolate.