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Cocoa Reduces Cell Damage
The chocolate under consideration comes from the beans of the domesticated Theobroma cacao tree. , discovered in October 2018 to have originated from the Mayo-Chinchipe some 5,500 years ago in today’s Ecuador. Chocolate’s key ingredient, cacao, has flavanols, which are a type of antioxidant. This means a key chocolate component is a compound that helps protect tissue from damage that occurs as part of everyday oxidation. Some antioxidants may help protect against cancer, though scientists are still a little unclear on the precise correlation with flavanols. They do have more conclusive evidence that chocolate’s antioxidants reduce the risk of heart disease, however. The link: Flavanols can lower blood pressure and make the body’s vascular system work better.
That may be as far as it goes for the undisputed benefits of consuming chocolate, however. A 2018 study published in Planta Medicareviewed lots of previous chocolate research and determined that its effect on elevating mood or increasing brain health were unclear. Their essential objection was that none of the previous studies had included chemical analysis, instead relying on self-reporting. The PM study didn’t give up on the possibility of a chocolate-mood booster link, but it did recommend a “mood pyramid” study model for researchers going forward.
Dark Chocolate Makes All The Difference
Sorry, Reese’s cup and chocolate milk fans. Dark chocolate is the only way to go for the highest concentration of health benefits. It has double or even triple the flavanol-rich cocoa solids than the chocolate adulterated with milk products. And you really want the extra flavanols, since they work hard to help blood vessels produce nitric oxide. That’s how all the vascular benefits of chocolate play out, with the NO helping to relax blood vessel and lower blood pressure. Experts like the American Cancer Society recommend choosing dark chocolate that has at least 70 percent cocoa.
While dark chocolate is the best for flavanols, any chocolate does have a bit of nutritional value, especially in the mineral department. Just a few cacao components include iron, magnesium, manganese, copper, selenium, and zinc, along with fiber. Raw dark chocolate, the darling of the raw food movement, while it will never be a Cadbury egg experience, does have healthy levels of potassium, zinc, and selenium. It also contains enviable amounts of soluble fiber, about 11 grams in 3.5 ounces. That compares to one gram of fiber for a 40-gram Dove milk chocolate bar.
Eat All You Like? Um, No
While the thought of chocolate might summons visions of lava cakes or M&Ms, scientists are here to crush the idea of “eating healthy” while indulging in chocolate desserts. In its original form, cacao is quite bitter. Just about any chocolate mass marketed, even the 70% cacao, is sweetened with at least some fat and sugar. Do these additives override chocolate’s health benefits? Not altogether, particularly since dark chocolate has the fiber that helps you feel full faster. But you do want to take it slow when you eat chocolate as part of a healthy diet aimed at reducing heart disease and maybe even cancer. Eat it sparingly, and opt for the highest level of cacao you can tolerate. And if you’re really enthusiastic about upping the antioxidants you eat, leafy greens and certain fruits are a far lower-calorie option. Maybe consider blueberries dipped in a little dark chocolate?