A HEALTHY TREAT: 7 health benefits of dark chocolate

DARK CHOCOLATE: Delicious, seductive and healthfulWe’re always being told that chocolate isn’t good for us and that it should only be eaten on special occasions because of its high sugar content. But that’s not entirely true. Yes, most chocolates are unhealthy because they have a high sugar content, but some—dark chocolate in particular—have several scientifically-proven health benefits.

Health benefits of dark chocolate

  1. Releases natural pleasure-inducing chemicals, such as endorphins and serotonin
  2. Has cardiovascular benefits, such as relaxed blood pressure and lowers the levels of “bad” cholesterol (LDL)
  3. Increases blood flow to your brain, reducing the risk of stroke
  4. Rich in antioxidants
  5. Rich in vitamins and minerals, especially potassium, copper, magnesium, and iron
  6. Contains healthy amounts of stimulants, such as caffeine and theobromine
  7. Contains fewer milk ingredients, and some studies have shown that milk with chocolate can result in less absorption of the antioxidants in chocolate

Generally, the rule is that the higher the percentage of cocoa in chocolate, the better it is for you. Think of it this way: if you have two equally-sized chocolate bars and one contains more cocoa than the other, it must mean that that same bar must have less sugar, milk, and other ingredients. Cocoa is a natural product derived from cacao beans which grow on cacao trees.

The catch is that for most people, dark chocolate is an acquired taste. Cocoa is naturally bitter, and so the darker the chocolate (or the higher the percentage of cocoa), the more bitter it will be—which explains why many chocolates have low cocoa content and high sugar content!

There is a middle ground. For those who would like to transition from regular to dark chocolate you can purchase organic dark chocolates infused with flavours such as ginger, mint, orange, and berry. These tend to have slightly more sugar than regular dark chocolates but have less sugar than regular chocolate bars. Or you can melt the chocolate and dip your favourite fruit—bananas, strawberries, cherries—in it. They’re a great way to introduce dark chocolate into your diet as you slowly make the shift from the chocolate you’re used to, to the dark chocolate that’s great for your health.

Personally, when I was making the transition and getting used to the added bitterness of higher cocoa content, I turned to organic dark chocolate with crystallized organic ginger—it had the health benefits of organic dark chocolate (minimum 60 per cent organic cocoa solids in the brand that I buy), as well as the benefits of organic ginger.

After a week or so of eating these chocolates, switching to plain dark chocolate should be a piece of cake! Don’t forget that you can opt for organic dark chocolate as well.

by Fareed Khan

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Posted by × November 3, 2012 at 8:31 AM

4 Comments

  1. Chocolate is normally seen in a bad but here are some other things that are great for your body that are believed are unhealthy!

    When most people think of a “heart healthy lifestyle”, images of dry bran muffins and chalky soy milk come to mind. Taking care of your body doesn’t have to be torture. Here is a list of enjoyable yet heart-saving items to add to your daily to-do list.

    THE FUN WAYS TO PREVENT HEART DISEASE!

    Chocoholics Take Note. Studies suggest that the flavanols in dark chocolate lower levels of blood glucose and bad cholesterol (LDL), while raising good cholesterol (HDL), which may lower your risk of heart disease.

    Tip: Don’t want the fat and sugar from the typical source of chocolate? Take flavanol-rich cocoa supplements, available in capsules, tablets and liquid.

    Would you like some wine with that treat? Red wine has been commonly believed to be heart healthy, and for good reason. Research shows that the antioxidant resveratrol in red wine may offer protection against cardiovascular disease. Resveratrol also helps activate sirtuin 1, a protein in the body that protects the heart from inflammation. You don’t have to be a teetotaler to know alcohol needs to be consumed in moderation, but even as little as 1 glass per day can protect your heart.

    Tip: To avoid overconsumption of alcohol, take resveratrol supplements, which come in capsules, tablets, and softgels.

    Have Sex! Not only have studies shown sex can lower incidence of depression and stress in both men and women, but frequent sexual intercourse may prevent fatal coronary events—particularly in men.

    Tip: Not feeling the love lately? There are numerous dietary supplements that can enhance your libido.

    Don’t skip the Starbucks While overconsumption of caffeine has been linked to adverse health effects, numerous studies have shown that moderate daily intake of coffee has been associated with lowered risk of heart disease. In fact, drinking 1 or 2 cups per day may reduce the risk of death from heart disease by up to 23%.

    Tip: Not into the taste of coffee? Try coffeeberry capsules. They give the benefits of the antioxidant-rich polyphenols found in coffee, with little to no caffeine.

    Crank up the tunes. Studies have shown that jamming to your favorite tunes has a healthy effect on the function of your blood vessels. Sing along to Kelly Clarkson, lip sync to Bruno Mars. Dance to Rihanna. All of it brings you joy, which in turn is good for your cardiovascular system.

    Watch “The Hangover” …or “Bridesmaids” or whatever tickles your funny bone. There’s a reason why they say “laughter is the best medicine.” A study found that those who laughed frequently were 40% less likely to suffer from heart disease than those of the same age who laughed less.

    Tip: There’s no substitute pill for joy, so enjoy your tunes and find reasons to laugh out loud as often as you can! On the flip side, if you’re prone to depression, there are safe and effective mood-elevating supplements, such as st. john’s wort, 5-HTP, ginseng, B-complex, SAMe, omega-3 fatty acids, etc., that are completely worth discussing with your healthcare practitioner.

    THE NOT-QUITE-AS-FUN (BUT EASY) THINGS TO DO

    Usually, the most fanatic heart health enthusiast is the one who’s reacting to a health condition, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or a pending bypass surgery. If everyone who suffered from a heart attack had made the adjustments to their lifestyle to prevent heart disease, the number of incidence would have drastically gone down. Regardless of your age or health condition, it’s never too late to make the adjustments you need to ensure your heart health.

    Go nuts. In the nut family, walnuts have the most significant source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). ALA is a plant based source of omega 3 fatty acids, one of the most widely researched nutrients for the prevention of heart disease. Read more: “Walnuts for Heart Health”

    There’s something fishy going on. Another significant source of omega 3 fatty acids, regular consumption of fish can lower the risk of heart disease, and is associated with a significant reduction in the risk of sudden cardiac death.

    Bulk Up. Fiber-rich diets are associated with lowered levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, risk of diabetes, risk of heart disease, rates of obesity, high blood pressure and high blood sugar levels. Eating daily portions of fruit, vegetables, and whole grains provides a healthy mix of soluble and insoluble fiber.

    Lower salt intake. Even a modest reduction in salt intake can significantly reduce incidence of heart attacks and heart failure. Keeping daily intake in the range of 3-12 grams per day can lower the incidence of high blood pressure as well.

    Keep moving. By now we know a sedentary lifestyle is one of the highest risk factors for cardiovascular disease, yet it’s worth repeating over and over that even moderate exercise will strengthen your heart. Just hit the repeat button on this one until it hits home.

    Find your inner Zen. Regularly meditating has been shown to significantly lower high blood pressure. Additionally, American Journal of Hypertension reported that meditating for 15 minutes twice daily for 4 months can lower blood pressure in teenagers by a few points.

    Mr. Sandman bring me a dream. Poor sleep habits have been linked to heart failure, heart attacks, and high blood pressure. Research shows that poor sleep triggers the inflammatory cycle in the body, which in turn contributes to heart disease. Make it a point to have a regular sleep schedule, no matter what your daily schedule is – same time to sleep, same time to wake. It’s the healthiest way to get the most out of your dream time.

    Tip: Trouble getting your Z’s? Try melatonin. It’s a safe alternative to prescription and OTC sleep medications.

  2. I live in Switzerland – the “land of cheese & chocolate” ;-)
    believe or not: I eat chocolate (approx. 1 ounce) on a daily basis; my “regular” chocolate has 72% cacao
    but: from time to time I buy chocolate with 100% cacao – yes, it exists !!! (it is, however, very expensive; approx $5.- for a 3 oz bar)
    call me a chocoholic – I don’t care – I feel good :-)

  3. Thanks for the replies Michael and Stephan!

    Michael – that’s some really great info. Thanks for sharing. It’s great to see that there are others interested in these topics as well.

    Stephan – wow, I did not know that chocolate with 100% cacao existed! It must be very bitter but very delicious and great for you. I am going to try to see if I can find some.

  4. Foods like nuts, berries and even can chocolates, reduce the risk of disease. It is also food for the soul :-)

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