Benefits of eating dark chocolate

Chocolate has a bad reputation in the food community because most (read: milk) chocolate is packed with sugar and doesn’t offer any real nutrition. But dark chocolate can actually be very healthful.

The study proves that dark chocolate-sweet, rich and delicious-is good for more than curing a broken heart. The secret behind its powerful punch is cacao, also the source of the sweet’s distinct taste. It is packed with healthy chemicals like flavonoids and theobromine, this little bean is a disease-killing bullet. Cacao on its own is bitter, chalky, nasty stuff. Though raw cacao is very good for you, it’s not sweet like the chocolate you find in candy bars at the grocery store, which has been roasted and made more palatable with sugar and oftentimes vanilla.

But this means that you shouldn’t take these health benefits as a go-ahead to eat a bar of store-bought chocolate every day. Made from the seed of the cocoa tree, it is one of the best sources of anti-oxidants on the planet. Try to stick with raw dark chocolate and consume it in moderation; just a few bites a day will satisfy your sweet tooth without going overboard. Roasting chocolate at high temperatures removes a lot of the benefits, so try to find some raw chocolate bars that don’t add lots of sugar.

You’ll notice that bars of dark chocolate have percentages on the packaging; these numbers reference the proportion of cacao in the bar. While eating dark chocolate can lead to the health benefits that chocolate is also high in fat. The higher the percentage, the less sugar (and other flavorings) added and more health benefits the chocolate has.

Dark chocolate is a great choice for baking, as it’s not overly sweet. Try it in all kinds of baked goods, like dark chocolate cookies and banana bread, healthier snacks like kale chips, and even dark hot chocolate.

Bad cholesterol reduction

Dark chocolate is loaded with nutrients that can positively affect your health. Along with a healthy diet and exercise, dark chocolate may help lower bad cholesterol (LDL) and increase good cholesterol (HDL). In the long term, this should cause much less cholesterol to lodge in the arteries and we should see a lower risk of heart disease over the long term.

Weight loss

Chocolate can also aid in weight loss, because it can help one feel fuller. Dark chocolate, in particular, is rich in fiber, helping to keep people full so they will then not feel the need to eat as much. It reduces cravings for sweet, salty and fatty foods. Chocolate can cause breakouts, dark chocolate is actually very good for the skin. The flavonoids in dark chocolate give some protection against UV damage from sun exposure. In research it is found that three months of eating chocolate with high levels of flavonoids, people’s skin took twice as long to show sunburn.

Blood pressure lowering

The flavanols in dark chocolate can stimulate the endothelium, the lining of arteries, to produce Nitric Oxide (NO), which is a gas. Eating a few bites of dark chocolate can improve your blood pressure with polyphenols, which help increase the oxygen flow through your arteries. One of the functions of NO is to send signals to the arteries to relax, which lowers resistance to blood flow and therefore reduces blood pressure.

Prevents diabetes

Chocolate can actually work to prevent diabetes. People who ate one dark chocolate candy bar each day for 15 days had a huge drop in potential for insulin resistance. Claudio Ferri, M.D., the lead researcher of the study, said, “Flavonoids increase nitric oxide production and that helps control insulin sensitivity.”

Calming effects

Chocolate has been known to improve one’s mood. It also has been proven to reduce stress. Chocolate produces serotonin, which releases lots of good feelings in your brain and allows you to de-stress naturally. Chocolate contains flavonoids, which boost blood flow to the brain, causing people to feel more alert and awake. The increase of blood flow to the brain caused by flavonols may also increase the flow of blood to the retina, which could boost vision.

Heart-healthy

Dark chocolate improves blood flow and may help prevent the formation of blood clots. It helps to reduce risk of h eart attack and stroke than those that did not consume dark chocolate. This is due to antioxidant compounds found in chocolate known as flavonoids, which increase flexibility in veins and arteries. Eating dark chocolate may also prevent arterioscelerosis i.e., the antioxidants in dark chocolate help prevent heart disease by improving blood flow and protecting against hardening of the arteries. Choose dark chocolate with high cocoa content for maximum antioxidants. In fact, one chocolate bar has five times the flavonoids of an apple.

Nuts – The fact that fats may help reverse heart risks, even after weight gain

Seeds and nuts are indispensable for cardiovascular health. If you’re going to overindulge and gain weight, at least try to make sure the extra calories come from unsaturated fats, a new study suggests.

Heart disease risk factors in the bloodstream change —some for the better if the excess food contains unsaturated fats, versus saturated fats, researchers found. When lean people pack on even a few extra pounds.

An author Dr. Ulf Riserus of the Unit for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism at Uppsala Science Park in Swede said that even a moderate weight gain of about three pounds for lean, young people clearly increased markers of heart disease risk factors like insulin resistance as well as signs of impaired vascular function.

But unsaturated fats in the diet improved cholesterol levels despite the extra calories and weight gain, which is surprising, Riserus told Reuters Health by email.

For seven weeks, two groups of healthy, relatively lean adults ages 20 – 38 we’re told to keep to their habitual exercise level and daily diets by just adding 3 – 4 muffins to their diets each day.

The researchers provided the 240-calorie muffins, with half their energy from fats. One group of 19 adults received muffins made with sunflower oil, polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), while the other group of 20 people ate muffins made with palm oil, a saturated fat. The muffins were otherwise identical.

After seven weeks, each group had gained between 2-3 percent of their body weight, about 3.5 pounds (1.5 kilos) each, and waist girth increased by about one percent, but blood pressure did not change significantly.

This level of weight gain in the short term is probably not dangerous at all, Riserus said, but if weight accumulates over time, especially abdominal fat, there can be health consequences.

Based on blood tests, the sunflower oil group had lower cholesterol and lipid levels at the end of the study than they had at the beginning of the study. According to the results in the Journal of the American Heart Association, for the palm oil group, cholesterol went up.

Both groups showed signs of increased insulin resistance, a diminished ability to process blood sugar that can be a warning sign of diabetes onset.

Riserus and his team had previously found that the type of fat in the diet determined how much of the excess calories were stored as abdominal fat and liver fat, he said.

“If the high-caloric diet was based on unsaturated fats rather than saturated fats, very little fat was stored as liver and abdominal fat, whereas the opposite was true for the diet high in saturated fats”. Saturated and unsaturated fats have different molecular effects on the liver. Unsaturated fats signal the liver to take up cholesterol from the blood, he said.

Riserus said, “We believe our results are very relevant considering that a large part of most populations are in caloric excess and gradually gain weight over time,”. “Although weight gain should be avoided, the results basically tell us that we may benefit from having enough unsaturated fats in our diets, irrespectively of how many calories we eat.”

The results support the American Heart Association recommendation to replace some saturated fats in the diet, like fatty beef, butter and cheese, with unsaturated fats like vegetable oils and nuts, he said.

Ursula Schwab, an associate professor of nutrition therapy at the University of Eastern Finland in Kuopio said “I do not think people usually plan for weight gain, but, as we know, it just happens quite commonly”.

“So, by following the guidelines regarding dietary fat, unintentional weight gain can be less harmful than in cases when the recommendations on the quality of dietary fat is not followed,” Schwab told Reuters Health by email. She was not involved in the new study.

All dietary polyunsaturated fats are beneficial, she said, but that is not necessarily the case for supplements.

In addition to sunflower oil, rapeseed oil and canola oil are good sources of polyunsaturated fats, Riserus said.