Is dark chocolate really that good for you? Depending how I answer, I could lose a lot of friends. In a one word and simple answer: Yes! However, you must read on to the rest of the blog to get all of the details. For example, which type of dark chocolates are best, what amounts can be consumed in one sitting, how often it can be eaten and the reasons why it is or is not good for you.
Wouldn’t it be nice if it were simple and I could say that because dark chocolate has some benefits, you can feel free to eat as much as you want? I really wish I could, but unfortunately it doesn’t work like that… True health benefits rely on the portion of foods to determine whether it is beneficial or not.
So let’s get started! To begin…
What Is Chocolate?:
Chocolate is made using beans harvested from the cocoa tree, Theobroma cacao. The beans are removed from their pod, fermented, dried, roasted and then ground to produce a cocoa mass or cocoa liquor. Cocoa liquor can be pressed to yield cocoa butter and cocoa cake which is ground up into cocoa powder. Cocoa liquor can also be combined with cocoa butter, sugar, vanilla, (and milk, in milk chocolate) to make chocolate.
What Is Dark Chocolate?:
Dark chocolate is also known as “bittersweet” or “semisweet” chocolate. It contains a high percentage (> 60%) of cocoa solids, and little or no added sugar. Dark chocolate has a rich, and intense flavor. It can be found in chocolate bars, candies and baking chocolate.
Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate:
- Dark chocolate contains flavonoids called procyanidins and epicatechins; flavonoids are part of a group of antioxidants that are great for the body known as polyphenols. They are found in a variety of foods including dark chocolate, tea, red wine, and various fruits and vegetables.
- Flavanols, which are more prevalant in dark chocolate and cocoa beans, have antioxidant effects that reduce cell damage implicated in heart disease. They also help to lower blood pressure and improve vascular function.
- Dark chocolate and its main ingredient, pure cocoa, appear to reduce risk factors for heart disease, as well as increase blood flow to the arteries and heart. Pure cocoa is also low in fat and sugar, while offering potential health benefits such as lower blood presure and reducing risks of blood clots. Most commercial chocolates have ingredients that add fat, sugar and calories. Too much of those things can contribute to weight gain, a risk factor for high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. Therefore dark chocolate and pure cocoa are much healthier than commercial chocolate.
- Dark chocolate can decreases LDL (“bad”) cholesterol oxidation.
- In addition, some research has linked dark chocolate consumption to reduced risks of diabetes, stroke and heart attack.
- Cocoa may have a beneficial effect on cholesterol levels because it consists mainly of stearic acid and oleic acid. Stearic acid is a saturated fat, but unlike most saturated fatty acids, it does not raise blood cholesterol levels. Oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat, does not raise cholesterol and may even reduce it.
- Regular intake is associated with better cognitive performance in the elderly.
- It also contains a number of minerals, including calcium, magnesium, and potassium.
- Best of all- Dark chocolate improves mood and pleasure by boosting serotonin and endorphin levels in the brain! It makes you happy!
Keep In Mind:
- There are measurable amounts of caffeine in dark chocolate. Eating large amounts may increase blood pressure. Individuals who are sensitive to caffeine should be aware of this when considering adding dark chocolate to their diet.
- Chocolate contains oxalates which can lead to an increase in urinary oxalate excretion. Increased urinary oxalate increases the risk of kidney stone formation. As a result, those individuals prone to developing kidney stones should reduce their intake of oxalate from food – including chocolate – as a way to reduce urinary oxalate.
- Dark chocolate contains a natural chemical called tyramine. Although more data is needed, Tyramine is thought to trigger migraines. Not all individuals who suffer from migraines are sensitive to tyramine, however those who suffer from migraines may consider experimenting to determine if dark chocolate is a trigger for them.
- Milk tends to bind to antioxidants in chocolate making them unavailable. Therefore, milk chocolate is not a good antioxidant source.
- To get the benefits of antioxidants, avoid drinking milk with dark chocolate.
- White chocolate contains no cocoa solids and therefore is not a good source of antioxidants.
Ideas for Healthy Dark Chocolate Consumption:
- High-quality chocolate contains a high percentage of cocoa solids (up to 60 %). It also contains phytochemicals, like flavonoids, that contribute to pigment. More flavonids means darker choclate and greater health benefits. Therefore, avoid purchasing chocolates that have a grayish tone, white spots on the surface or small holes. Look for brown, glossy or dark brown chocolates to purchase- The darker the better!
- Look for chocolate made from cocoa butter instead of fats such as palm and coconut oils. Although cocoa butter does contain significant amounts of saturated fat in the form of stearic acid, it has been shown to have a neutral effect on cholesterol unlike the saturated fats in both palm and coconut oils.
- Purchase chocolate without the use of ‘hydrogenated’ or ‘partially hydrogenated’ oils, which are known to negatively impact cholesterol
- A small portion of high quality dark chocolate is recommended. Be aware, dark chocolate is high in calories and fat, so consume sparingly. According to the University of Michigan the recommended daily serving of chocolate is 1 oz. per day. That equals about the size of one small individually wrapped Dove Chocolate.
To Avoid Overindulging in Dark Chocolate:
- Eat it after you have enjoyed lunch or dinner.
- Have a piece of fruit prior to eating dark chocolate to help satisfy your sweet craving.
- Take your time when eating dark chocolate. It is very rich and has complex flavors. Eating it slowly and mindfully wil increase enjoyment.
- Try dipping fresh fruit into melted dark chocolate for a divine dessert! Delicious!
- If you enjoy chocolate flavor, add plain cocoa to your low-fat milk or morning oats. Pur cocoa is much healthier than commercial chocolates and tastes just as great!
So when it comes down to it there are both pros and cons to the consumption of dark chocolate. In the end it is all about moderation and about getting all of the other daily nutrients your body needs to function. Don’t feel guilty about eating dark chocolate- just make sure you aren’t over doing it!
Peace and wellness,
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Resources: Mayo Clinic, University Of Michigan, USDA Nutrient Database