6 of the Best Benefits of Eating Healthy Dark Chocolate
Chocolate is known as the food of lovers, especially on Valentine’s Day, but in ancient civilizations, it was considered the food of the gods!
Origins of Dark Chocolate
Theobroma cacao, the botanical name given to the cacao tree (from which we derive cacao beans to make cocoa and chocolate), literally translates as “food of the gods” in Latin.
Both the Mayan and Aztec civilizations valued and even revered cacao. It was prized for its enlivening, stimulating health effects, and used in rituals and celebrations. Evidence shows that cacao beans were even used as currency.
When it comes to the researched benefits of healthy dark chocolate, it appears that the Mayans and Aztecs were ahead of their time. In recent years, studies have found that dark chocolate, when consumed moderately, offers a treasure trove of health benefits for your brain and body.
Loaded with polyphenols, antioxidants, minerals, B vitamins and other key compounds, dark chocolate is showing itself to be a remarkable health food that can boost blood flow, cognition, mood, gut health, skin health, and more.
Here are some of chocolate’s studied health benefits.
6 Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate for Valentine’s or Anytime!
- Mood Boost
Most of us have heard of or experienced chocolate’s mood-enhancing properties firsthand.
In a review of eight studies, five of them found that chocolate consumption showed either an improvement in mood state or an attenuation of negative mood in participants. Another study had subjects drink a polyphenol-rich, dark chocolate beverage for 30 days, after which they observed a significant increase in self-rated calmness and contentedness relative to placebo.
Scientists are still determining what mechanism might drive elevated mood. It could be due to the pleasant experience of smooth and creamy chocolate in the mouth, or its tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin (the good mood hormone), which may increase serotonin levels in the brain.
Or it could be a result of chocolate’s phenethylamine and tyrosine, which are associated with increased levels of the serotonin and dopamine, which can lift mood. Research has also proposed that chocolate’s caffeine and theobromine may be its mood-altering agents.
- Healthy Blood Flow
Dark chocolate’s rich flavanol content helps to boost vasodilation, which allows for increased blood flow to all parts of the body, including the brain. One study that gave adults high-flavanol cocoa for two weeks found blood flow to the brain increased by 8% after one week and 10% after two weeks.
Additionally, magnetic resonance imaging studies have shown increased blood flow to the brain’s gray matter three hours after consuming cocoa, as well as other changes to regional blood flow.
Of course, greater blood flow to the brain is critical to optimal brain function. Indeed, research has shown improved mental function with daily intake of flavanol-rich cocoa in subjects with and without cognitive impairments.
A small portion of dark chocolate a day may keep cognitive decline and memory issues at bay.
Oxidative stress and neuroinflammation play a role in neurodegenerative issues. Hence, dark chocolate’s polyphenols, with their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, may potentially have a neuroprotective effect. Researchers believe that flavonoid-rich foods in the diet may be able to target multiple sites in the brain and protect against neurodegenerative problems.
Additionally, chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine, which have separately been studied and shown to have neuroprotective properties.
- Heart Health
As nature would have it, the food synonymous with love is also good for your heart. Research indicates that chocolate’s high polyphenol content may help mitigate several risk factors for heart health issues.
Specifically, chocolate’s polyphenol antioxidant action may potentially help to keep oxidized LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) levels in check by combating free radicals. LDL cholesterol oxidizes when it reacts with free radicals, and high levels of oxidized LDL cholesterol is a heart health risk factor.
One clinical trial, published in the Journal of Nutrition, showed that cocoa powder consumption was associated with a significant decrease of LDL cholesterol in male subjects – as well an increase of the good kind of cholesterol for a lower total LDL for subjects who had high cholesterol levels.
Another study found that dark chocolate may improve insulin sensitivity and support healthy blood pressure levels in patients with blood sugar and blood pressure issues – two major heart health risk factors.
- Supports Gut Health
Surprisingly, research in recent years shows that chocolate is a prebiotic, helping to feed the good bacteria in your gut.
One study showed significant increases of Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli in subjects who consumed flavanol-rich cocoa for four weeks. These beneficial bacteria help to ferment dark chocolate fiber into short-chain fatty acids that help to fend off harmful microbes and feed the cells lining your gut, promoting gut health.
- Skin Health
Here’s a surprise: consuming cocoa can benefit your skin. In a study where women drank a high-flavanol cocoa drink for 12 weeks, there was greater blood flow to the skin, greater skin density, healthy hydration, and a decrease in skin roughness. Additionally, the cocoa flavanols helped to protect against sun damage.
Healthy Dark Chocolate
Most chocolate bars are full of unhealthy ingredients like sugar, dairy, and synthetic flavors –virtually canceling out chocolate’s powerful health benefits. Be sure to choose dark chocolate that has a high cocoa content, at least 60% or higher, and is low in sugar. The higher the cocoa content, the greater the health benefits.
Brain in Love sugar-free dark chocolate bars are an excellent choice!
At BrainMD, we’re dedicated to providing the highest purity nutrients to improve your physical health and overall well-being. For more information about our full list of brain healthy supplements, please visit us at BrainMD.
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