One of the best pieces of medical news published in the past decade for those of us who love chocolate, is that dark chocolate is actually good for you. The antioxidants found in chocolate are in the dark stuff and not the milk or white chocolate so don’t buy cases of Hershey’s Milk Chocolate just yet (but it’s ok to get the Dark Chocolate version!).
Researchers found that dark chocolate would lower blood pressure. However, this should never be taken as the opportunity to go on a chocolate binge. Eating more chocolate will only increase your weight, which increases your blood pressure, if you don’t decrease the number of calories you eat at other times. (1)
The antioxidants in dark chocolate are potent according to Italy’s National Institute for Food and Nutrition Research. These antioxidants are important in the fight against free radical damage in the body. The findings by one study indicated that drinking milk with chocolate would interfere with the absorption of antioxidants from chocolate that could negate the potential benefits. (2)
This means that the dark chocolates are the most beneficial to your health, that you should watch your caloric intake so you don’t increase your weight and you shouldn’t wash down the chocolate with milk.
In a study using men and women aged 55-64 who had mild high blood pressure, the participants ate 480 calories of dark chocolate each day and balanced it by removing that many calories from their diet in other areas. Those who ate the dark chocolate experienced a 5 point systolic and 2 point diastolic decrease in blood pressure over 2 weeks. (3)
In another study using people age 25-35 researchers found that those who ate dark chocolate had the most total antioxidants in their blood one hour after eating as compared to those who ate white chocolate or milk chocolate. They also had the higher levels of epitcatechin, which is a health compound found in chocolate. Chocolate also contains phenols.
Until these past studies it was thought that tea was the only compound that contains the largest amount of these antioxidants. These antioxidants are believed to help protect the body against heart disease and cancer. The phenols are also found in high amounts in red wine.
Another positive effect of the phenols found in dark chocolate is the protection against athrosclerosis. Phenols are believed to prevent substances in the blood from oxidizing and clogging the arteries. The substances are low density lipoproteins (LDL) that creates subtle damage which eventually forms plaque that leads to athrosclerosis. (4)
And, while eating too much chocolate has a negative effect on weight, researchers believe that other negative effects have been overstated or are false. For example, chocolate hasn’t been found to cause cavities or tooth decay. In fact, it has been found to help decrease the number of bacteria in the mouth and stop decay. Scientists believe that the antibacterial agents in cocoa will offset the sugar levels. (5)
Chocolate has also not been found to cause an issue with acne. In fact, some more recent research has shown that eating chocolate or not eating doesn’t produce any changes in acne skin conditions. However, eating too much chocolate can cause other health problems, has too many calories and can lead to obesity.
And, interestingly, Dove Dark chocolate made by Mars, Inc., contains cocoapro cocoa, which is a proprietary blend of specially processed cocoa that has higher levels of flavanols than other dark chocolates. So high, in fact, that Dove chocolate is often used in medical research.
Research is ongoing to determine the actual effectiveness of absorbing antioxidants from dark chocolate in the treatment and prevention of heart disease and cancer. Some of this research is being done in the laboratory, other on animals and still others on human subjects.
Until research reaches a final conclusion researchers have not found any negative effects of eating dark chocolate, except for the issues with increasing caloric intake and the risk of obesity. Using smart decisions, calorie counting and exercise you can easily fit a couple of squares of chocolate into your diet and take advantage of both the great taste and potential health benefits. Remember to seek the advice of your primary health care provider if you have any metabolic disorders which may be impacted by the increase in sugar, such as diabetes.
(1) Cleveland Clinic: Is Chocolate Good For Your Heart?
(2) University of Michigan Health System: Dark chocolate
(3) University of Tesas Health Science Center at Houston: WorkLife Wellness Tip of the Week
(4) PLOS One: Plant Derived Phenolics Inhibit the Accrual of Structurally Characterised Protein and Lipid Oxidative Modifications
(5) Chemistry Central Journal: Cacao Sees are a “Super Fruit”: A Comparative Analysis of Various Fruit Powders and Products