Take advantage: the health benefits of eating chocolate

Back in 2016, we shared the power of chocolate for pain relief in a featured article from February. Now, just in time for Valentine’s Day this year, we’re back with even more benefits of that sweet treat that most everyone loves to eat.

Experts tend to agree that the real benefits come from eating dark chocolate rather than milk chocolate. The following seven benefits are ones that most health experts agree we may get from eating dark chocolate.

1. It’s a powerful source of antioxidants

Dark chocolate helps the body fight free radicals (the environmental toxins we’re exposed to on a daily basis). Antioxidants neutralize or “disarm” free radicals and protect the body from their damage. One of dark chocolate’s most impressive attributes is its high antioxidant content, giving it a high score for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity or ORAC.

Two groups of antioxidants prevalent in dark chocolate are flavonoids and polyphenols. Dark chocolate’s cocoa has an even higher concentration of polyphenols and flavonoids than wine or tea or even blue and Acai berries. So, look for high cacao/cocoa percentage when you buy your next dark chocolate bar to max out on antioxidants.

Bottom line: Dark chocolate beats most of the super foods for antioxidants.

2. Potentially, it can help prevent cancer

Studies are still emerging, but researchers are optimistic that dark chocolate may help ward off cancer. The American Cancer Institute has shared that in looking at the studies on cancer protective properties of cocoa, the evidence is “limited but suggestive”. To be sure, more thorough studies are needed to determine chocolates’ cancer protective role.

Bottom line: Keep enjoying the pleasurable experience of eating chocolate – and see how the research evolves.

3. It contributes to improved heart health

As mentioned, flavonoids abound in dark chocolate. The Cleveland Clinic found that flavanol, the main flavonoid in dark chocolate, has a positive effect on heart health. It does so by helping to lower blood pressure and improve blood flow to both the heart and brain. Flavanol also helps make blood platelets better able to clot, reducing the risk of blood clots and stroke.

There have been some significant studies on the benefit of dark chocolate on heart health. One such study compared dark chocolate to white chocolate (which has no flavanol). Healthy study participants ate one or the other for two weeks. When groups were compared, the dark chocolate eaters had significant improvement in heart circulation – the white chocolate eaters had no improvement.

In a longer study, researchers followed the health of over 20,000 people over 11 years. The cumulative evidence suggested that higher chocolate intake was associated with a lower risk of future heart health issues.

Bottom line: There is a positive connection between dark chocolate consumption and heart health.

RELATED: Take our heart health challenge

4. It’s good for your cholesterol

Research suggests that dark chocolate’s cocoa polyphenols may be involved in cholesterol control. Several studies have confirmed this. A study in 2009 showed that just one week of chocolate consumption improved the lipid profiles and decreased the platelet reactivity for men and women. In general, studies have found that eating dark chocolate can:

  • Increase HDL (good) cholesterol
  • Decrease LDL (bad) cholesterol
  • Reduce insulin resistance, a common risk factor for heart disease

Bottom line: Dark chocolate makes an impact on one’s cholesterol profile.

5. It has good nutritious value

To get nutritional benefits, you’ll need to buy a quality dark chocolate with a high cocoa content. A high-quality bar might contain 70-85% cocoa. Why is it so nutritious? For starters, it contains a fair amount of soluble fiber and is high volume of minerals. A high-quality bar also contains iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, potassium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium…in very decent amounts. Of course, keep in mind that a standard 3.5-ounce bar also comes with 600 calories.

Bottom line: Dark chocolate is best consumed in moderation, due to the calories, but has good nutritional value if you purchase the right kind.

Did you know….dark chocolate contains stimulants like caffeine and theobromine? The good news is that it’s unlikely to keep you awake at night. The amount of caffeine is very small compared to a cup of coffee.

6. Your skin may get some protection from the sun

The same flavonols that help your heart may also be great for your skin. Studies have shown that the can improve blood flow to the skin, increase skin density and hydration and basically provide more resistance to the UVB rays that cause redness and sunburn.

One study showed that it took more than twice as much sun to cause redness after participants had consumed dark chocolate in high flavanols for 12 weeks.

Bottom line: Consider loading up on dark chocolate during the months leading up to your beach vacation to get some extra protection from the sun.

7. It may improve brain function

Finally, one more part of your body may get a boost from dark chocolate – your brain. Studies have shown that dark chocolate may improve the function of the brain. The high-flavanol cocoa has proven to improve blood flow to the brain, cognitive function in elderly people with mental impairments, verbal fluency and various risk factors for disease.

Bottom line: Your brain will only benefit – and won’t be harmed – by moderate amounts of chocolate on a regular basis.

While many more studies are required to conclude definitive benefits, the evidence for health benefits from eating dark chocolate seems to be increasing. So you can feel a little less guilty for adding one or two pieces of dark chocolate to your daily diet – and keep watching for larger and possibly more conclusive studies that are likely on the horizon.

PainPathways Magazine

PainPathways Magazine

PainPathways is the first, only and ultimate pain magazine. First published in spring 2008, PainPathways is the culmination of the vision of Richard L. Rauck, MD, to provide a shared resource for people living with and caring for others in pain. This quarterly resource not only provides in-depth information on current treatments, therapies and research studies but also connects people who live with pain, both personally and professionally.

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