Recent studies have shown that chocolate has a myriad of health giving properties. But before you reach for another Ferrero Rocher, the quality of the chocolate we eat is really important.
Dark chocolate with 70% or more cocoa solids is the stuff that is choc full (sorry!) of healthy nutrients. Specifically, it is the raw cacao powder, made by cold-pressing unroasted cocoa beans that contains nutrients such as:
- Minerals such as potassium, phosphorus, copper, iron, zinc, and magnesium
- Flavonols – which have antioxidant effects
- Methylxanthines – namely caffeine and theobromine which are nervous system stimulants, diuretics and smooth muscle relaxants, so can enhance arousal, mood, and concentration levels
- Valeric acid which acts as a stress reducer despite the stimulants caffeine and theobromine
- The fat predominantly found in dark chocolate is cocoa butter which contains approximately 33% oleic acid, 25% palmitic acid, and 33% stearic acid. Oleic acid is a monounsaturated fatty acid that has a positive effect on lipid levels. Stearic acid and palmitic acid are saturated fatty acids.
Various studies on the health benefits of dark chocolate have shown that potentially it may help with:
- Inflammation: A study comparing individuals eating 20g of cocoa every 3 days for a year compared to those who ate none showed that levels of Serum CRP – a marker of inflammation – were lower in the chocolate eaters
- Stress: Researchers found that dark chocolate helped reduced stress associated hormones such as cortisol
- Heart disease: The polyphenols in chocolate may help reduce cardiovascular stress by inhibiting the oxidation of LDL cholesterol. This oxidation promotes the onset of atherosclerotic diseases. Cocoa flavanols also help maintain elasticity of blood vessels, contributing to normal blow flow. It may also help reduce blood pressure
- Gut flora: Cacao and/or chocolate modifies intestinal flora in the same way that prebiotics and probiotics do
- Cognitive function: The flavanols in dark chocolate may improve blood flow to the brain and have a protective effect on neurons, thus helping prevent cognitive decline. A 2016 study reported increased chocolate consumption was associated with better performance on a range of memory and cognitive tests
- Weight loss?: Amazingly some studies have shown eating a small amount of chocolate before a meal triggers satiety signals in the brain leading to reduced subsequent consumption. A further study on animals suggested that chocolate may increase thermogenesis (fat burning)
So it seems that dark chocolate can be good for us. Of course, there can be some negative effects. For some people the amino acid tyramine can trigger a migraine, suffers of the herpes virus may find that arginine contained in chocolate triggers an outbreak of cold sores, and the caffeine may provoke palpitations or keep some people awake.
And off course, even dark chocolate does contain sugar but see the comparison with milk chocolate:
In a 40 g serving:
- 70% dark chocolate contains 3 teaspoons of sugar (4 g sugar = 1 teaspoon)
- 85% contains 1.5 teaspoons of sugar
- Milk chocolate contains around 5.5 teaspoons of sugar
So limit yourself to no more than 20 – 40 g per day of the darkest chocolate you can take.