Chocolate, or as known as the “drink of the gods” by its earliest cultivators the Mayan people is well known and enjoyed by many around the world. While mostly known for imparting flavor to a wide variety of confectionaries and more, consuming it in its raw dark form is also quite popular. When eaten in moderation, the pure form of chocolate can be a great source of vital nutrients. In this article, we shall outline the health benefits of chocolate that make it a tasty as well as a healthy choice for us all.
What are the health benefits of chocolate?
Pure chocolate is derived from the cultivation of cocoa beans. There are three main varieties of it. They are Trinitario from the Caribbeans, Criollo from Latin America, and Forastero from Africa. However, Forastero makes up for about 90% of all cocoa beans globally. Over years, there have been several studies on the benefits of eating chocolate.
While some studies claim that chocolate is a good source of antioxidants, others have associated it with lowering cholesterols and preventing memory loss. A review of the health benefits of chocolate published in the Netherlands Journal of Medicine states that cocoa or the key ingredient of chocolate has biologically active phenolic compounds which might have positive impacts on aging, atherosclerosis, blood pressure regulation, and oxidative stress.
However, one should consider that the health benefits are directly related to cocoa content; the higher the better. Dark chocolates with higher cocoa content can help in lowering cholesterol levels, preventing the decline of cognition, and reducing cardiovascular risks due to their antioxidant properties. Let us examine the health impact in detail.
Studies have indicated that chocolate consumption has the potential to reduce bad cholesterol – the Low-Density Lipoproteins (LDL). The researchers concluded that regularly eating chocolate bars containing cocoa flavanols (CF) and plant sterols (PS) as a part of a low-fat diet can improve blood pressure, lower cholesterol thereby enhancing overall cardiovascular health.
2. Cognitive abilities:
Researchers at the prestigious Harvard Medical School concurred that drinking two cups of hot chocolate every day improved blood flow across the human brain. This function reduced memory decline in older people and helped keep the brain healthy.
Experiments conducted on chocolates revealed that a cocoa extract called lavado can help slow down symptoms of cognitive decline. Lavado helps patients with Alzheimer’s by reducing or preventing damage to the nerve pathways. Further studies have shown that cognitive function can be significantly improved when chocolate is consumed at least once a week.
3. Heart disease:
Authors at research published in the BMJ indicated that consuming higher levels of chocolate could lower the risk of heart diseases by one-third and lower cardio-metabolic disorders in general.
A group of Canadian scientists conducted a study on 44,489 participants on the connection of chocolate to strokes. The study revealed that those who consumed about two ounces of chocolate on a weekly basis were 46% less vulnerable to stroke. Also, individuals that consumed at least one serving of chocolate were 22% less likely to experience a stroke as compared to the ones that did not.
Another 2015 study that tracked the long-term impact of diet on the health of 25000 women and men was published in the health journal, Heart. The study indicated that risks of stroke and other heart diseases can be significantly lowered by consuming 100 grams of chocolate daily.
4. Growth and development of fetus:
A 2016 Pregnancy Meeting held in the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine at Atlanta, GA concluded that eating an ounce (~30 grams) of chocolate a day benefits fetal growth and development in pregnant women.
5. Athletic prowess:
There have been quite a few studies on linking chocolate to athletic abilities. Researchers in the United Kingdom worked with cyclists doing time trials. They found that riders were able to both cover more distance in a two-minute time trial and use less oxygen while cycling at a moderate pace after eating some dark chocolate.
They believed that flavonols known as epicatechins contained within dark chocolate enhanced the nitric oxide content in the body, a property similar to beetroot juice.
Additionally, the trait of dark chocolate to boost oxygen availability during fitness training was also established with findings published in The Journal of the International Society of Sports.
6. More energy:
Other studies have found that dark chocolate contains Theobromine that helps enhance mood and improve alertness by boosting energy and overall morale, an effect that is similar to caffeine.
However, one should keep in mind that as with everything, moderation is the key here as well. The health benefits of chocolates are best realized when raw and minimally processed dark chocolate is consumed over milk chocolate or white chocolate.
This is because while dark chocolate has around 50-90% cocoa solids, milk chocolate only has about 10-30% while white chocolate has none. So enjoy your chocolate, while you keep the benefits of eating chocolate in mind.