That powerful explosion of flavour followed by a tingling sensation down the back of your spine and a commanding after-taste from your first bite into a piece of dark chocolate is always the best. In fact, to the luck of all chocolate lovers, it may even be good for you! Dark chocolate is full of nutritional value from good fats to antioxidant acting flavonols which may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer as well as giving you the energy to function and enhancing your cognitive activity.
Most of the benefits in dark chocolate come from flavonols and good fats. Flavonols are compounds that act as antioxidants to protect cells and monounsaturated fats are good fats which digest to lower VLDL and LDL (bad cholesterol which causes cardiovascular issues) and raise HDL (good cholesterol) which help to remove the VLDL/LDL. Dark chocolate is packed with these flavonols and monounsaturated fats, offering many health benefits. Here is a breakdown of how it can help you:
Dark Chocolate may Reduce the Risk of Cardiovascular Disease and Enhance Endurance
It has been shown that the monounsaturated fats in dark chocolate and cocoa powder have the effects of raising HDL and lowering VLDL/LDL whilst the flavonols have also been shown to lower the VLDL/LDL. This may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease1, 2,11 and lower blood pressure 6 as the VLDL/LDL are what get caught in the blood stream, causing blood clots and lifting blood pressure, while the HDL carry these away. Additionally, the fats within dark chocolate are a good source of energy because fat has more calories per gram than carbohydrates and has been known to help enhance endurance in cyclists3.
Dark Chocolate is Good for your Skin and may Prevent Cancer
The flavonols within dark chocolate and cocoa neutralise free radicals4. Free radicals damage DNA leading to cancer and aging. By neutralising the free radicals, the flavonols prevent damage being caused to the DNA which may reduce the effects of aging and prevent cancer. The fats within the chocolate may also modify the composition of LDL, making it more resistant to oxidative damage, preventing the formation of free radicals in the first place2. However, “milk may interfere with the absorption of antioxidants from chocolate” 5 so it’s best to stick to dark chocolate that’s milk-free.
Insulin Sensitivity and Brain Function
The flavonols have also been found to increase insulin sensitivity6, meaning that your blood metabolises glycogen better, which is a positive outcome for diabetics in most cases! The increased insulin sensitivity has also been found to result in yet another effect from the flavonols of an improved cognitive function7, suggesting that dark chocolate and cocoa might just be good for diabetics and those of us about to undertake a mentally challenging activity.
Consuming 30g of dark chocolate has been found to suppress ghrelin (the hunger hormone) to reduce appetite. However, this correlation seems to disappear after the chocolate has been consumed. Strangely enough though, it has been discovered that smelling dark chocolate will suppress ghrelin and satisfy appetites with a longer stimulation effect so it will control hunger more effectively8. Contrary to popular belief though, the flavonols in dark chocolate do not significantly improve fat metabolism10. So if you want to use dark chocolate to lose weight it will only help by suppressing hunger, an outcome which is most effectively achieved, oddly enough, by smelling the dark chocolate.
Mood and Fatigue
In a study of trainee nurses, it was found that dark chocolate reduced anxiety, depression and stress scores after just three days12. Such results have also been found in other studies but it seems to be more of an acute effect rather than a longer lasting effect. Additionally, it may reduce symptoms of those with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) whilst making them feel better as a 2010 study found that fatigue in subjects with CFS was significantly reduced and anxiety and depression symptoms were improved13. So perhaps dark chocolate can help to take the edge off a stressful situation and make improve wellness when feeling fatigued.
While dark chocolate has all of these health benefits it’s also important to recognise that it can also have negative effects. The caffeine can cause an irregular heart rhythm while the cocoa is so concentrated that the body might not be able to deal with a large serving effectively. Plus, there is quite a lot of sugar in it which isn’t the best of things to load up on. Because of this we would recommend that while dark chocolate has got plenty of benefits, be aware to regulate your consumption to avoid any negative side effects, stick to a few squares a day.
Lastly, and most importantly, if you’re going to have some dark chocolate do so because it tastes GREAT!
1) Wan. Y, Vinson. J.A, Etherton. T.D, Proch. J, Lazarus. S.A, Kris-Etherton. P.M, 2001, Effects of cocoa powder and dark chocolate on LDL oxidative susceptibility and prostaglandin concentrations in humans1,2,3, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2001, Volume 74, Issue 5
2) Mursu. J, Voutilainen. S, Nurmi. T, Rissanen. T.H, Virtanen. J.K, Kaikkonen. J, Nyyssonen. K, Salonen. J.T, 2004, Dark Chocolate Consumption Increases HDL Cholesterol Concentration and Chocolate Fatty Acids May Inhibit Lipid Peroxidation in Healthy Humans, Free Radical Biology and Medicine, Volume 37, Issue 9
3) Lambert. E.V, Speechly. D.P, Dennis. S.C, Noakes. T.D, 1994, Enhanced Endurance in Trained Cyclists During Moderate Intensity Exercise Following 2 Weeks Adaption to a High Fat Diet, European Journal of Applied Physiology 1994, Volume 69
4) Carnesecchi. S, Coehlo. D, Gosse. F, Lazarus. S.A, Raul. F, Schneider. Y, 2002, Flavanols and Procyanidins of Cocoa and Chocolate Inhibit Growth and Polyamine Biosynthesis of Human Colonic Cancer Cells, Cancer Letters 2002, Volume 175, Issue 2.
5) Serafini. M, Bugianesi. R, Maiani. G, Valtuena. S, De Santis. S, Crozier. A, 2003, Plasma Antioxidants from Chocolate
6) Grassi. D, Lippi. C, Necozione. S, Desideri. G, Ferri. C, 2005, Short-Term Administration of Dark Chocolate is followed by a Significant Increase in Insulin Sensitivity and a Decrease in Blood Pressure in Healthy Persons, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2005, Volume 81, Issue 3.
7) Desideri. G, Kwik-Uribe. C, Grassi. D, Ghiadoni. L, Mastroiacovo. D, Raffaele. A, Ferri. L, Bocale. R, Lechiara. M.C, Marini. C, Ferri. C, 2012, Benefits in Cognitive Function, Blood Pressure, and Insulin Resistance Through Cocoa Flavanol Consumption in Elderly Subjects With Mild Cognitive Impairment
8) Massolt. E.T, Posthuma. E.F, Rehfeld. J.F, Schweitzer. D.H, van der Veer. E, van Haard. P.M, 2010, Appetite suppression through smelling of dark chocolate correlates with changes in ghrelin in young women, Regulatory Peptides, Volume 161, Issues 1-3.
9) Astrup. A, Sorensen. L.B, 2011, Eating dark and milk chocolate: a randomized crossover study of effects on appetite and energy intake.
10) Buckley. J.D, Coates. A.M, Davison. K, Howe. P.R.C, Effect of cocoa flavanols and exercise on cardiometabolic risk factors in overweight and obese subjects, International Journal of Obesity, 2008, Issue 32.
11) Kris-Etherton. P.M.A, Keen. Carl, 2002, Evidence that the antioxidant flavonoids in tea and cocoa are beneficial for cardiovascular health, Current Opinion in Lipidology, Volume 13, Issue 1.
12) Lua. P.L, Wong. S.Y, 2010, Can Dark Chocolate Alleviate Anxiety, Depressive and Stress Symptoms Among Trainee Nurses? A Parallel, Open-Label Study.
13) Sathyapalan. T, Beckett. S, Rigby. A.S Mellor. D.D, Atkin. S.L, 2010, High cocoa polyphenol rich chocolate may reduce the burden of the symptoms in chronic fatigue syndrome, Nutrition Journal 2010, 9:55.
Note that these are the author’s interpretations and applications of research they have performed.