The benefits of dark chocolate: The more bitter, the better

Medically reviewed by Aviv Joshua, MS

The cocoa content distinguishes dark chocolate from milk and white chocolate. Dark chocolate has much more cocoa than milk chocolate. And white chocolate does not contain cocoa solids.

Milk chocolate and white chocolate contain more milk and sugar. Dark chocolate is not as sweet and can be bitter. Chocolate connoisseurs generally prefer dark chocolate for its overall quality and taste.

This article explores the health benefits of dark chocolate and how to incorporate it into your diet.



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Why does the cocoa content of dark chocolate matter?

Cocoa is rich in healthy flavanols. Some dark chocolate products have two or three times more cocoa than milk chocolate. And some lower-quality chocolates may have more added fat, sugar, and artificial flavors.

Standards vary from country to country, but dark chocolate usually has 5090% cocoa solids and no milk. Milk chocolate usually contains 1050% cocoa solids. White chocolate contains at least 20% cocoa butter, but no cocoa solids.

Chocolate lovers, connoisseurs and artisans prefer dark chocolate with at least 75% cocoa, which many consider a higher quality product.

This higher cocoa content gives dark chocolate a richer chocolate flavor. But it’s not as sweet as milk chocolate. Some people may find higher cocoa concentrations too bitter.

Nutritional content

One bar of dark chocolate (7085% cocoa) contains the following nutrients:

Compounds of dark chocolate

Dark chocolate is made from different amounts of cocoa butter, cocoa butter and cocoa powder. Cocoa beans contain over 300 chemical plant compounds that benefit overall health.

Polyphenols (plant compounds that act as antioxidants) include phenolic acids, stilbenes, flavonol and flavan-3-ols, anthocyanins and procyanidins. Methylxanthines (non-polyphenols) include theobromine, caffeine and theophylline.

Cocoa vs. Cocoa

Cacao and cocoa are both made from seeds (beans). Theobroma cacao wood. The difference is related to processing. Cocoa products are made from raw beans, while cocoa is made from roasted beans.

The benefits of dark chocolate

The bioactive compounds in dark chocolate have many health benefits.

May protect heart health

Cocoa is rich in naturally occurring chemicals called flavanols that are good for your heart. Flavanols help relax blood vessels, improve blood circulation, lower blood pressure and reduce inflammation.

One review found that higher chocolate intake reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease by 37 percent and the risk of stroke by 29 percent.

May improve lipid profile

Studies show that eating 2 grams of dark chocolate (70% cocoa) daily for six months can improve cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

May lower the risk of diabetes

Eating dark chocolate daily can improve fasting blood glucose levels and insulin resistance. Research suggests that a small amount of dark chocolate each day can help control diabetes or reduce the risk of developing it.

Good for the gut microbiome

Studies suggest that dark chocolate has a prebiotic effect and renews the diversity and composition of the intestinal microbiome. The gut microbiome plays a key role in disease and overall health.

Mood-altering properties

Dark chocolate can help improve mood, possibly through a better gut microbiome. Gut microbial diversity is associated with higher positive emotions and reduced feelings of loneliness. One study found that people who ate 85% cocoa improved their mood, but not those who ate 75% cocoa.

Stress relief

Polyphenols in cocoa can help lower the stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine (adrenaline). This seems to be true whether you are healthy or highly stressed.

Improved brain function

Cocoa flavonoids help protect nerve cells and improve cognitive function. Cocoa can also improve blood circulation in the brain. Dark chocolate may offer some protection against degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

A stronger immune system

The antioxidant properties of dark chocolate can help reduce cell damage caused by free radicals, which can help protect against cell death and many diseases, including cancer and the effects of aging.

Improved athletic performance

The compounds in dark chocolate increase the amount of nitric oxide in the blood. This can improve blood circulation and reduce the oxygen you need during exercise. It can help you stay moving longer.

Dark Chocolate Bar Checklist: Things to Keep in Mind

Chocolate is best stored in a cool and dry place, but not in the refrigerator. If stored properly, it will last up to two years. Here are some other important things to keep in mind:

  • You get the most flavanols from at least 70% dark chocolate.

  • Some dark chocolate products are dutch-processed or treated with alkali to improve taste and appearance. This can reduce flavanols. As you may notice in baked goods, natural cocoa retains the most flavanols.

  • Growing, harvesting and transporting chocolate may involve child labor or other unfair labor practices. Fair trade products are made without child labor and with a fair wage for the workers.

For all the health benefits of dark chocolate, it is quite high in calories, and a significant portion of those calories come from fat. Some dark chocolate products may also have added sugars. Eating too much can lead to weight gain and impaired glucose homeostasis, especially if you have type 2 diabetes.

With all of this in mind, most people can integrate dark chocolate into a balanced, healthy diet.

Who should not eat dark chocolate

It is safe for most people to eat a small amount of dark chocolate every day, but it is not a good choice for everyone. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Do not eat chocolate if you are allergic to cocoa or other ingredients.

  • If you are prone to them, chocolate can trigger acid reflux or migraines.

  • The more cocoa in your chocolate, the more caffeine. Keep this in mind if you’re trying to limit caffeine. One bar of dark chocolate contains about 80.8 milligrams (mg) of caffeine.

  • Some dark chocolate can be high in heavy metals, especially lead and cadmium. Heavy metal exposure is associated with a variety of health problems, including respiratory, neurological, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, urinary, and immune system disorders. These metals are also found in other common foods, so moderation is key.

Summary

Dark chocolate has many potential health benefits due to its high cocoa content. Eating dark chocolate can benefit your heart, immune system, mood, and overall health. But it’s also high in fat and calories, so it’s best to consume it in moderation. Talk to a nutritionist or other healthcare professional if you are concerned.

Read the original article on Verywell Health.

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