Dark chocolate is not a guilty pleasure - it actually comes with many health benefits.
Some doctors even say that “a dark chocolate a day keeps the doctor away.”
Chocolate – real chocolate, not processed and sweetened such as milk chocolate – is chock-full of incredible health benefits. Dark chocolate made with cocoa is very good for you – and there are many reasons to include more of it in your diet.
Some of the nutrients are destroyed in the process of making chocolate available for the general market. You want to make sure the chocolate you buy is within the healthy range. Check the label – a chocolate with a 60 percent or higher content of cocoa is packed full of nutrients and antioxidants. Often called bittersweet, they use minimal sugar. The best way to get all the nutrients from chocolate is to simply use unsweetened cocoa nibs. The cocoa nibs are often bitter, crunchy, and seed-like, but their nutritional profile makes it worthwhile.
1. Dark chocolate can help prevent depression
One of the components found in dark chocolate is theobromine. Theobromine is structurally quite similar to caffeine and is often referred to as its sister chemical. Theobromine, when consumed in larger amounts, can cause a dip in blood pressure, excitability, and give energy. This energy can be followed by a crash, leading some critics to label chocolate as a dangerous and addictive substance.
Another chemical found in chocolate is anandamide. Anandamide is structurally similar to THC, but nowhere near as potent. Despite this, anandamide can still provide a mood-boost and energy-boost, without the addiction and cardiovascular damage that comes with other stimulating substances.
Yet another mood-boosting chemical in chocolate is phenethylamine, which is metabolized in your body into serotonin. Serotonin is one of the most important mood-regulating chemicals that your body can produce. If you’re deficient in serotonin, supplementing with phenethylamine (yes, just by eating chocolate) can help bring you back to baseline.
2. Dark chocolate can help prevent cardiovascular disease
Small-scale studies have indicated for quite some time that regular intake of cocoa can have a positive effects in fighting cardiovascular disease. A more recent study on cocoa's cardiovascular benefits, done in 2006, proved this among a larger study group.
The study was done on 470 men, all tested while consuming different daily doses of cocoa. The conclusions from this test were that cocoa does, indeed, lower the chances and significance of cardiovascular disease.
Another recent study on cocoa's benefits shows that most of chocolate's compounds – theobromine, its many polyphenols and antioxidants – can all effect the cardiovascular system. Now, these are observational studies, and single-handedly do not prove that chocolate is responsible for these benefits. However, the consistent positive results in studies done on cocoa indicate that chocolate does have a positive effect on the cardiovascular system. Chocolate has had such a profound effect on so many systems in the human body that some authorities are unsure whether to call it a food or a drug.
3. Dark chocolate can aid against diabetes
Chocolate has been shown to bolster endothelial function and insulin resistance. The endothelium is extremely important in maintaining arterial health, and insulin resistance is the most commonly checked statistic to determine whether future diseases, like diabetes, will develop. Cocoa and its flavonoids help to positively modulate these systems.
4. Dark chocolate can help prevent stroke
A study recently done in Norfolk concluded that chocolate has a huge impact on the likelihood of having a stroke.
The study was fairly simple – they compared people who frequently consumed chocolate with those who entirely abstained. It was done on a huge scale, involving 20,951 adults. They measured chocolate intake at the start of the study and tracked the people for decades, following their cardiovascular statistics. The problem with studies done like this is that the results don't conclusively link chocolate and lower case of stroke. Perhaps heavy chocolate consumers share similar habits that also reduce stroke. This study also found links between those who ate more chocolate and just having healthier habits in general than the other study group.
5. Dark chocolate can improve LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol
Artherogenesis, caused by low-quality lipids oxidizing, is a degenerative condition of the arteries. Chocolate has been shown to prevent the oxidization of LDL cholesterol, which is one of the greatest contributors to artherogenesis.
So, when LDL cholesterol is oxidized, the LDL itself becomes reactive. This means it can damage your organs, your arteries, and eventually cause cancer. It's also effective at increasing the total amount of HDL cholesterol – the good kind.
The solution to reactive LDL? You want antioxidants! Chocolate has no dearth of antioxidants. Plenty of these antioxidants are absorbed easily by the blood and can battle free radicals before they cause any damage.
6. Dark chocolate can lower your blood pressure
Another benefit of chocolate's amazing medicinal profile is that it can lower your blood pressure. People suffering from hypertension will want to read more. Chocolate can be a cheaper and more enjoyable way of lowering blood pressure than prescribed medicines.
A recent study done at Harvard reviewed 24 past studies of chocolate. Over 1,000 people were involved over the course of these various studies. The synopsis is that dark chocolate between 50 and 70 percent cocoa lowered the blood pressure of all participants. The benefits were greater in those who already suffered hypertension. This suggests that the flavonols responsible are more effective when your blood pressure is high.
While fruit, vegetables and tea are known sources of antioxidants, research shows that the cocoa bean is more potent. It has one of the highest concentrations of antioxidants and beneficial nutrients in the world! It's no surprise that, with such a huge amount of minerals and vitamins, chocolate can also lower your blood pressure.
7. You can control your cough with dark chocolate
One of the chemicals in cocoa – theobromine – is known to antagonize the activity of the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is a part of your brain, and its activation can trigger coughing fits. Scientists are looking into creating medication for coughs that use this very chemical.
A study on chocolate's effects as a cough-suppressant found it to be more effective than common cold medicines – even ones using codeine, a weak narcotic. They tested this by giving subjects different cough medicines. One group received common cough medicine with codeine, the second group received a solution of theobromine and the third group did not receive any medication.
They were exposed to capsaicin (the chemical responsible for making chili peppers spicy.) Their intention was to see how much capsaicin was required to induce five coughs. Usually, having your lungs exposed to capsaicin will cause even the most hardened chili-heads to break into a coughing fit. The group with theobromine required about a third more capsaicin to cough five times. There was no difference between codeine and the placebo group.
8. Dark chocolate can help pregnancy
This one's a new entry to the huge list of chocolate's benefits. Recent studies have shown that chocolate improves fetal growth. Some mothers may be at risk for preeclampsia – when the blood supply to the fetus is cut off or restricted. This occurs due to high blood pressure – natural during pregnancy. A study shows that regular chocolate consumption can reduce the risk of preeclampsia by lowering blood pressure.
It is undetermined which compounds in chocolate are responsible for this effect. The study's two groups consumed high and low-flavonol chocolate. Both saw significant improvements in blood flow to the fetus. This suggests that chocolate's benefits may extend beyond its flavonol content!
9. Dark chocolate can improve brain function
Chocolate has long been studied and hailed as an aid for many things – digestive health, cardiovascular health, happiness – but only lately has it been studied for its benefits to human cognition. This study delves into the cognitive benefits of chocolate consumption. High intake of high-quality chocolate enabled improvements of cognitive processing, visual-spatial awareness, abstract reasoning, scanning, working memory, and improved Global Composite scores.
An ongoing, 40-year study on the effects of chocolate on cognitive function recently concluded. Scientists used data from the beginning of the study and compared it through cross-sectional study. This might not mean that chocolate makes people smarter – perhaps smart people happen to eat chocolate.
Regardless, the study also concluded that all the types of intelligence measured previously were increased by chocolate consumption – along with spoken word recall. The people were scored before and after on all these types of intelligence, and scores were notably improved after the 40 years ended.
A study done by British psychologists shows that the flavonols in chocolate specifically help people with their mental math. During the study, people were tested counting backwards on a randomly-generated number test before and after drinking a cup of hot cocoa. This means – gorging on chocolate before your exam could be a good idea!
10. Dark chocolate is a huge source of antioxidants
Dark chocolate contains very high amounts of potent antioxidants. The study calculated the Relative Antioxidant Capacity Index (RACI) by isolating free radicals and antioxidants extracted from chocolate. Free radicals are the pre-requisite for cancer, and anti-oxidants can help destroy free radicals before they spread.
The two opposing extracts were essentially left in vivo (outside of the human body) to battle each other. The resulting statistics proved that chocolate's antioxidants – at least, in vivo – are extremely effective at reducing free radicals. While they may behave differently in the body, relevant studies also show that chocolate's effective at battling free radicals in vitro.
Chocolate has a huge number of biologically active compounds with antioxidant activity. It's filled with polyphenols, flavonols, catechins – even theobromine (the compound contrued to have antidepressant effects) acts as an antioxidant.
11. Dark chocolate can protect your skin from the sun
Dark chocolate has been known to prevent damage from ultraviolet rays – the light emitted by the sun. The most effective way to reap this effect – like any other beneficial effect – would be to eat straight cocoa beans. These are often available at health food stores.
If you can't use raw cocoa, high quality dark chocolate will still suffice. The flavonols in 85% dark chocolate are still present enough to have an effect.
In this study, they measured the minimal erythema dose (MED.) MED is a measure that shows how much exposure will begin to negatively affect skin. A high MED is good because it means you need to be exposed to more UV light to take damage.
MED rose dramatically for the study group consuming cocoa rich flavonols for a few weeks. The group that didn't consume any, or consumed chocolate lower in flavonols, showed no change.
12. Dark chocolate is very nutritious
Dark chocolate’s massive nutritional profile is one of the main reasons it’s become so popular. You've already read that it can help fight against diabetes, cancer, lower blood pressure, protect your skin, and even help cure depression.
Most of that is just from chocolate's antioxidant profile. It's also jam packed full of dietary minerals and vitamins! For half a cup of pure cocoa (this is quite a bit, mind you) you'll get the following nutrients!
- Riboflavin, 6% of your daily value
Riboflavin helps the body convert food into energy. It's also helpful in aiding iron's absorption in the intestine. To a lesser extent, it improves skin, hair, and eye function, and can help the brain operate better.
- Niacin, 4% of your daily value
Niacin helps your skin, nails, and red blood cells looking fresh. It's a B vitamin that's necessary for metabolizing food into energy. It keeps your skin, hair, and eyes healthy.
- Calcium, 5% of your daily value
Calcium helps out with our muscle functions, our nerves sending signals, regulating blood pressure, and secreting hormones. Most commonly it is known for helping the development of bones and teeth.
- Iron, 33% of your daily value
Iron helps create hemoglobin which helps make up red blood cells. This creates myoglobin, which brings oxygen to cells in need. It is also important in your body's production of amino acids and neurotransmitters.
- Magnesium, 53% of your daily value
Magnesium works with calcium to assist in muscle contraction, metabolism, regulating blood pressure, and making sure your bones and teeth don't crack.
- Phosphorous, 30% of your daily value
Phosphorous keeps your bones and teeth healthy. It's also a part of DNA and assists in producing energy from food.
- Zinc, 40% of your daily value
Zinc is an important building block for proteins and cells. Without zinc, vitamin A would not be utilized by the body properly. Zinc also helps the immune system's function.
- Copper, 80% of your daily value
Copper is a huge player in creating red blood cells. It is also important for metabolism, immunity, and maintaining your nervous symptom.
- Manganese, 83% of your daily value
Manganese is a trace mineral and strong antioxidant. It's important for energy and bone development, but over consuming magnesium can cause your cognition to suffer.
- Omega-6 fatty acids – 378mg
Omega fatty acids play an integral role in maintaining your brain's fluidity, in helping clear cholesterol out of your body, and in providing energy.
- Caffeine, 99 mg
Caffeine is the stimulant found in coffee, and the most controversial compound of chocolate. It can be considered addictive, but also is useful for a boost of energy.
- Theobromine, 880 mg
Theobromine is known as the sister of caffeine. It's a weaker version, by about four times – but the comparative amount makes it stronger than caffeine in the case of chocolate.
A strong dark chocolate bar would only be made from about half as much cocoa. Even so, you're getting significant amounts of copper, manganese, and magnesium from what you'd get in a regular sized bar of 80% dark chocolate. That, combined with all the different nutrients, makes chocolate's value in a balanced diet obvious.
13. Dark chocolate can promote red blood cell distribution
In the study linked here, dark chocolate is shown to aid in the distribution of red blood cells. Evidence over the last couple decades has shown that regular consumption of dark chocolate can improve the red blood cell distribution width (RDW). RDW is a reliable way to measure or predict cardiovascular disease.
Using RDW as a measure, regular intake of chocolate high in flavonols and polyphenols raises RDW significantly enough to reduce the risk of a large number of cardiovascular diseases.
Part of the reason chocolate helps improve RDW is because of its high iron content. Iron deficiency can cause diseases like anemia – a condition in which the body has a significantly lower number of red blood cells than it should have.
14. Dark chocolate boosts your immune system
Dark chocolate's potent antioxidant content, along with some of the other mechanisms of nutrients, make it a treat for your immune system. Cocoa can modulate the inflammatory response of your immune system. Inflammation is a tissues response to pathogens, chemicals, wounding or infections. Flavonoids are generally associated with anti-inflammatory properties, and chocolate is filled with them.
Cocoa can have a beneficial effect on certain cells that produce antibodies. Antibodies help your body battle bacteria and disease – so regular consumption of chocolate might save you from getting that nasty office cold!
Cocoa also has a positive effect on the lymphoid tissues. Lymphoid organs help coordinate the immune response in humans. Cocoa helps the lymphoid organs produce cells more effectively, leading to a better defense against disease.
6 Delicious Dark Chocolate Recipes
Aside from being delicious on its own, dark chocolate has a huge amount of culinary uses. With its strong, almost nutty flavour, it adds a splash of versatility to the kitchen – it can make cake richer, snacks more complex and add depth to just about anything. You can even eat your chocolate in a caffeinated Eat Your Coffee Mocha Bar!
Dark chocolate can be used in entrees, baked goods, appetizers, and – of course – desserts. Here's a list of a few of my personal favourite dark chocolate recipes for you to indulge in!
This delicious sauce can cover any fruit and turn it into a delectable dessert. It can also be used for dipping cookies and cake in, for an extra depth of flavour. Chocolate and orange have been mixed together for years – something about the tart sweetness of an orange mixed with the deep, rich flavour of chocolate is irresistible.
1 1/4 cups of thick cream
3 tablespoons orange juice
12 ounces dark chocolate
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 teaspoon orange liqueur
with a short prep time and cook time, this will be ready in only fifteen minutes!
First, mix the cream and the orange juice together in a pan. Heat them until the edges begin to bubble. Once it’s bubbling, take it away from the heat. Mix in the chocolate, the zest, and the orange liqueur with a whisk. Voila! Now, just keep it on the lowest heat setting to keep it warm, or take it off the element and let sit.
You could try this with a different kind of juice – fresh strawberry or squeezed blueberry – or add cinnamon, nutmeg, cayenne or peanut butter to change up the flavours.
2. Black Bean Chili with Chocolate and Coconut
This is a great recipe, one of my favourites. It's a modified version of the one found here. It's an entree – something you can make before one of the delicious desserts in the earlier recipes. You might end up eating too much chocolate doing that, though!
You will need:
1 Tbsp. olive oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup garam masala
1 tablespoon cumin
8 cups water
1 pound dried black beans, rinsed
1 fresh diced red chili
1/4 cup coconut flakes
2 tbsp. cocoa powder
A short prep time meets a long cooking time, so this meal might not be one you can whip up for a casual dinner on short notice.
Heat your oil over medium heat. Mince the garlic finely or put through a garlic press, and saute for about five minutes, stirring or shaking constantly. Add in the garam masala and cumin, and cook for another few minutes until you can smell the spices rising from the pot. Add now the water, the sliced red chili, the coconut flakes and the cocoa powder. Bring this all to a boil, and then reduce to medium low and put a lid on, leaving it slightly open. Let this simmer for two hours, or until the beans are almost cooked.
After it's simmered, you can season with salt & pepper, or any other ingredients you think could complement the taste. I've used honey before, with great results. Return the concoction to the heat again for another half hour or until the beans are fully cooked.
If you don't like the texture, feel free to throw it in a food processor for a few minutes. In addition, if you have a slow cooker, you can just mix all this in the cooker and put it on low for 6-8 hours.
Top with more chocolate chips and coconut for extra flavour!
3. Dark Chocolate Baba Ghannouj
Yep – dark chocolate can even add a deep flavour to the palate of middle eastern foods. The versatility of chocolate is practically endless. In this meal, the nutty flavour of the tahini mixes incredibly well with the cocoa and spice palate.
8 cloves of unpeeled garlic
4 eggplants, sliced lengthwise, in half
1/3 cup lemon juice
4 oz dark chocolate
1 and a half tsp of cumin
1 and a half tsp paprika
2/3 cup tahini
2 tbsp chopped parsley
toasted naan bread to serve
First, melt your dark chocolate until it’s creamy. Heat up your oven on broil. Place the garlic with the eggplants, facing up, on a foil or parchment-lined baking sheet. Put 'em in the oven, and broil them until they're charred and tender.
Peel the garlic and the eggplants, scoop the flesh from the eggplants. Put the eggplant and garlic in a food processor with the chocolate, cumin, paprika, salt & pepper if desired, tahini, and the parsley.
Puree until smooth. Put in a dish and garnish with whatever you desire - I’l suggest cilantro or more parsley. Serve with fresh baked naan bread for dipping.
This is a delightful entree, that takes less than half an hour to prepare and up to an hour to cook. The venison pairs perfectly with the dark flavour that the chocolate adds to the sauce. This entree can feed up to six people – and it certainly won't be the last time you'll want to make it.
For the cabbage and smoked bacon
- 50g of unsalted butter
- 150g of carrots, cut into batons of about 7mm each
- 4 crushed garlic cloves
- 150g of bacon lardons
- 25g of duck fat (bacon fat can be used in a pinch)
- 150g of celeriac, peeled and cut into batons the same length as the carrots
- 1 cabbage with the leaves removed and the core cut out, chopped to 5mm
- 100ml of thick cream
For the raspberry chocolate sauce
- 1 tsp of vegetable oil – coconut works great
- 1 tsp of chopped shallot
- 1 fl oz (28ml) of raspberry vinegar
- 500 ml of red wine
- 150ml of veal stock
- 50g of dark chocolate with at least 70 percent cocoa content
- 30g of unsalted butter
For the venison
- 4 pieces of venison loin, about 150 grams each
- 50g of unsalted butter
- salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
To make the cabbage, heat 25 grams of butter in a medium saucepan on medium heat. Throw in the carrots, season them a bit, and sweat them. When they're tender, throw in the garlic and saute for a few minutes while constantly stirring.
Put the carrots in a bowl via a slotted spoon. Put the bacon in the pan and fry it for 5 minutes, then add to the carrots. Using the same pan, add duck fat and celeriac. Cook slowly, adding water if it starts flaming. Cook until browned and tender – about ten minutes. Transfer all this to the carrots and bacon in the bowl.
Using the same pan, heat another 25g of butter and heat it up. Add the cabbage and season it a bit, then cover with a lid. Over high heat, cook until tender, shaking constantly, then add the mixture from the bowl to the pan. Add the cream as well. Stir to mix.
To make the sauce, take a fresh pan. Add oil and sweat the shallots with them over medium heat. Toss the vinegar in, and when it evaporates, add the wine. Reduce the wine by 3/4, then add the chocolate (after breaking it into pieces) and the venison stock. After the chocolate's melted, add the butter and whisk it. Turn the heat low, and cover tightly.
To prepare the venison, salt and pepper the loins first. Heat butter in a fresh frying pan, and cook the venison pieces on medium for about 5 minutes, until rare. Remove from the pan and sit on a plate, for 7 minutes. Serve with the sauce alongside with the cabbage.
The recipe linked above uses sea salt as part of the recipe, but I find these to taste much better without the addition. Dark chocolate and almond butter cover the flavour palate so perfectly that – for me – the salt adds an unnecessary flavour the detracts from the overall experience.
Commercialized nut butter cups – such as Reese's peanut butter cups – are notorious for being unhealthy. This recipe seeks to make a similarly delicious treat using natural ingredients, so you can get your health kick & satisfy your sweet tooth at the same time.
For this one, you'll need
7-8 ounces of dark chocolate or cocoa/baking chocolate, sweetened to taste with maple syrup
1/2 cup of almond butter
1 tablespoon of honey
2 tablespoons of coconut flour
2 and 1/2 teaspoons of arrowroot powder
Using mini-muffin cups, line a muffin tin.
Put together in a bowl the butter, honey, coconut flour and arrowroot powder. Stir them until well-mixed.
Break the chocolate into pieces. Proceed to melt it in a double-boiler. Alternatively, you can microwave it in short, ten-second blasts, making sure to stir between each one.
Drizzle a teaspoon of your melted chocolate into the muffin cups. Rotate the cups slowly, lining the sides with melted chocolate. Leave a little bit of space at the top.
Once they're all filled up, spoon in 2 teaspoons of your almond butter mixture in each cup. Depending on the type of honey used, they might be thick enough for you to roll into balls. If so, you can do this and simply press them down into the muffin cups with the chocolate.
Drizzle again with chocolate until the muffin cups are filled completely.
If you choose to use sea salt, sprinkle smoked sea salt over each individual chocolate.
Refrigerate until cold / hard, then dive in!
6. Delicious Organic Dark Chocolate
Most of the other recipes use dark chocolate as an ingredient. If you don't want to go to the store and buy some, chances are you'll have most of these ingredients lying around. If you buy in bulk, it can be a lot cheaper to make your chocolate at home. This recipe uses organic and healthy ingredients – even the sweetener has a host of positive benefits on the body. With this recipe, you can tweak the taste of your chocolate to suit you perfectly.
1/2 cup of coconut oil
1/2 cup of cocoa
3 tablespoons of honey
1/2 table of vanilla extract.
Prep time is only around ten minutes. Cooling takes an hour.
Gently melt the coconut oil in a deep dish pan. Stir in the rest of the ingredients slowly until they form a dark, pasty substance. When they're well-blended, pour the mixture into a mold. You can shape your chocolate any way you want! Let it sit in the refrigerator for an hour or until it's cooled, and the chocolate should be hard and brittle.
Maple syrup, or even corn syrup, can be used as an alternative to the honey. You can consider throwing in some orange peels, peanut butter, chili flakes, ground mint leaves, nuts, cinnamon, or anything else to add flavour. Just mix it in when the chocolate's melted.
It's obvious that chocolate – or at least cocoa powder – should be a necessity in every kitchen. The powder is so full of antioxidants, minerals and vitamins that it would be crazy not to try and include it!
Chocolate has a huge range of medicinal benefits and a huge rage of nutritional content. Chocolate's been studied for things like curing depression to preventing strokes and diabetes. It's vitamin profile can benefit everyone. Chocolate has healing effects on nearly all of your body's systems!
Not only does chocolate heal almost every part of your body in its own way – it can be incorporated into recipes of any variety. It is one of the most versatile ingredients you can possibly find.
By Jess Miller