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Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate

Chocolate is undoubtedly one of the most loved foods for people across the world.In fact,to give you a better idea,here’s rough estimate that will surely boggle your mind. On an average,over $75 billion is spent worldwide annually on chocolates. For many years now we have known that chocolate can make you feel good when you eat it.

But now researchers are discovering a surprising range of health benefits associated with chocolate. Chocolate has anti oxidants, it is good for the heart and the brain and may even have a beneficial impact on your mental health.

But a word of caution most of these benefits have been attributed to Dark chocolate only.The potential health benefits of processed, highly sweetened chocolate are slim to none.So let us first begin by exactly understanding what dark chocolate is.Before we jump into the benefits,it is important for us to understand what we mean by dark chocolateand how is it different from the regular chocolates available in attractive wrappers at your roadside shop.

What is Dark Chocolate?

Cocoa powder and chocolate are made from an extract of the seeds of the fruit of the Theobroma cacao tree. Darkchocolate is a form of chocolate which is made from cocoa butter instead of milk-based butter like milk chocolate, and contains a higher percentage of cocoa.It has no or very little milk solids added to it. Dark chocolate has a much more pronounced chocolate taste than milk chocolate. The basic ingredients in dark chocolate bars are cacao beans, sugar, an emulsifier such as soy lecithin to preserve texture, and flavorings such as vanilla. Dark chocolate has been identified as a potential "superfood”.
Dark chocolate is often also distinguished by the percentage of cocoa solids in the chocolate. The cocoa content of commercial available dark chocolate can range from 30% (sweet dark) to 70%, 75%, or even above 80% for extremely dark bars.

What makes dark chocolate healthy?

Dark chocolate is considered healthy because cocoa contans a number of chemical compounds that have a beneficial effect on our body chemistry. One of the main reasons for that is beacuse dark chocolate with 75-80% cocoa content offers a range of minerals and vitamins too that interact with cell and tissue components that help protect against the development and effects of certain diseases and illnesses.

In cocoa and cocoa products the flavanols that are responsible for the health benefits are referred to as: Monomers, Epicatechin and Catechin. When consuming high levels of cocoa, evidence shows that flavanols have proven to help lower blood pressure and cholesterol, improve mental cognition, and has also been shown to potentially lower the risk of diabetes in some people.

Diets that are rich in antioxidants including foods such as cocoa, fruits and vegetables promote better health. They even show signs of potentially delaying the onset of various diseases, including cardiovascular disease (CVD), diabetes, certain cancers, and several other age-related degenerative disorders.

Health benefits of Dark Chocolate
For some years now there has been a lot of research into the effects that cocoa and chocolate can have on our health and well being. The results coming in have almost universally shown that when consumed in small quantities chocolate can help improve our health and well being in a number of different ways. It is good for the heart and the brain and of course it makes us happy. Let's see how!

1. Eating chocolate tied to decreased risks of irregular heart rhythm
The findings come from a study conducted by Elizabeth Mostofsky, of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. The research found that people who ate chocolate one to three times per month were about 10 percent less likely to be diagnosed with atrial fibrillation than those who ate the sweet treat less than once a month.

2. Chocolate lowers blood pressure and Increases Insulin sensitivity
Research has shown that flavanols present in chocolate have a very positive effect on heart health by helping lower blood pressure and improving blood flow to the heart as well as the brain. Davide Grassi,Giovambattista Desideri,Stefano Necozione,Cristina Lippi Raffaele Casale,Giuliana Properzi,Jeffrey B,Blumberg & Claudio Ferri have shown in their study that Blood Pressure Is Reduced and Insulin Sensitivity Increased in Glucose-Intolerant, Hypertensive Subjects after 15 Days of Consuming High-Polyphenol Dark Chocolate

3. Dark chocolate helps regulate cholesterol levels
Cocoa also contains antioxidants called polyphenols. Reaserchers theorize that these compounds work to lower bad cholesterol levels. Consuming dark chocolate can improve several important risk factors for heart disease.
In a controlled trial, cocoa powder was found to significantly decrease oxidized LDL cholesterol in men.It also increased HDL and lowered total LDL in men with elevated cholesterol.Oxidized LDL means that the LDL ("bad" cholesterol) has reacted with free radicals.

This makes the LDL particle itself reactive and capable of damaging other tissues... such as the lining of the arteries in your heart.It makes perfect sense that cocoa lowers oxidized LDL. It contains an abundance of powerful antioxidants that do make it into the bloodstream and protect lipoproteins against oxidative damage.
Dark chocolate can also reduce insulin resistance, which is another common risk factor for many diseases like heart disease and diabetes.

4. Dark chocolate reduces risk of stroke
A Research study published in 2012 found that that men who indulge in 60 grams of chocolate each week had a 17 percent lower risk of stroke than others. The researchers could not fully ascertain why this effect was observed but they theorized that the effect is most likely because of the antioxidant present in chocolate.

5 Dark Chocolate is rich in minerals
Dark chocolate is also a good source of minerals. A 100 gram bar of dark chocolate with 70-85% cocoa contains:

• 11 grams of fiber.

  • 67% of the RDA for Iron.

  • 58% of the RDA for Magnesium
  • 89% of the RDA for Copper
  • 98% of the RDA for Manganese.

It also has a good amount of potassium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium.

6. Dark chocolate can also protect your skin against UV damage
Sunlight is vital for our health and offers a beneficial boost to vitamin D and nitric oxide levels. However, too much UV exposure is damaging to our skin in terms of aging and—potentially—skin cancer risk.

Interestingly, the flavonoids in dark chocolate appear to improve our skin’s natural resistance to UV from the sun. To measure UV damage, researchers typically use a measurement known as minimal erythema dose (MED).For example, a controlled double-blind study fed high flavanol (HF_ chocolate to one group and low flavanol (LF) chocolate to another for 30 days. Surprisingly, the UV resistance of the HF group more than doubled while the LF group remained unchanged.
A further study shows that long-term ingestion of high flavanol dark cacao leads to higher skin density, better skin hydration, and increased UV resistance.Although this is a nice benefit of dark chocolate, it’s important to stay safe in the sun.

Eating a little chocolate isn’t powerful protection against sunburn, so this doesn’t mean you can bask in the sunshine all day. It is better to seek shade (or cover up) once you have been out for a while.

7. Dark Chocolate may also help you lose weight

When you eat dark chocolate, the brain releases a chemical that triggers a feeling of satiety or feeling full. Eating small portions of dark chocolate will keep you from reaching for salty snacks later. In a study published in the American Chemical Society's Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, researchers at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute set out to test several groups of cocoa compounds to see which were most effective for preventing weight gain and obesity.

The winners: a group of compounds called oligomeric procyanidins (PCs). The researchers also found that oligomeric PCs or OPCs helped regulate blood glucose levels, suggesting the compounds might prove useful in treating diabetes.
Said lead researcher Andrew P. Neilson: "Oligomeric PCs appear to possess the greatest antiobesity and antidiabetic bioactivities of the flavanols in cocoa, particularly at the low doses employed for the present study."

8. Dark Chocolate improves Insulin Sensitivity
A 2005 reasearch study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that dark chocolate
improved insulin sensitivity in healthy people. This improvement in insulin sensitivity may help prevent
the onset of diabetes.

9. Chocolate helps improve our memory 

Research has now proven that falavanol, a remarkable compund known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties can help improve mental function.One 2014 study found that among adults ages 50 to 69, those taking a cocoa supplement with high flavanol content for three months had better performance on tests of memory than those assigned to take a low-flavanol cocoa supplement.

10. Eating chocolate can also improve cognitive function. 

The same flavanols are also said to have a positive impact on our psychological processes as reported by a study conducted in 2011 on healthy adults.In a 2006 study published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology. 47():S215-S220, JUN 2006 by S. T. Francis; K. Head; P. G. Morris; I. A. Macdonald, Magnetic resonance imaging was used to measure BOLD responses to a cognitive task in 16 healthy young subjects. The data presented show an increase in the BOLD(blood oxygenation level-dependent) signal intensity in response to a cognitive task following ingestion of flavanol-rich cocoa (5 days of 150 mg of cocoa flavanols).

Consumption of cacao flavanols improves increases blood flow to the brain, which in turn improves a number of its functions. Scientists at Harvard Medical School have suggested that drinking two cups of hot chocolate a day could help keep the brain healthy and reduce memory decline in older people. Lead author, Farzaneh A. Sorond, said:
"As different areas of the brain need more energy to complete their tasks, they also need greater blood flow. This relationship, called neurovascular coupling, may play an important role in diseases such as Alzheimer's."

Results of a lab experiment, published in 2014, indicated that a cocoa extract, called lavado, might reduce or prevent damage to nerve pathways found in patients with Alzheimer's disease. This extract could help slow symptoms such as cognitive decline.

11. Eating Chocolate improves your mood

Dark chocolate boosts the production of “feel-good” chemicals called endorphins.Endorphins bind with opiate receptors in the brain leading to feelings of euphoria, like the kind joggers get from “runner’s high.”
They also reduce pain and diminish the negative effects of stress.Chocolate is a top dietary source of tryptophan, an amino acid precursor to serotonin, the neurotransmitter of happiness and positive mood.

Chocolate is the main food source of anandamide, a naturally occurring compound called the “bliss molecule.”
This neurotransmitter is very similar to THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the primary psychoactive component in marijuana. Dark chocolate also contains phenylethylamine, a compound called the “love drug” because it creates a brain buzz similar to being in love. Theobromine, a compound found in chocolate that’s related to caffeine, is thought to make chocolate a mild aphrodisiac.

12. Eating chocolate can help improve in concentration.

Chocolate, also has methylxanthines, plant produced compounds that enhance concentration levels. . So like you experience with having tea or coffee, having chocolate also gives you that feeling of being more alert and being able to concentrate for longer. Cocoa’s flavonoids penetrate and accumulate in the brain regions involved in learning and memory, especially the hippocampus.
Chocolate also contains some caffeine, a known brain booster that in low doses improves memory, mood, and concentration.

13. Dark Chocolate is a Powerful Source of Antioxidants
Have you ever heard of a measure called ORAC?ORAC stands for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity. It is a measure of the antioxidant activity of foods.Basically, researchers pit a bunch of free radicals (bad) against a sample of food and see how well the antioxidants in the food can "disarm" them.

The biological relevance of this metric is questioned, because it's done in a test tube and may not have the same effect in the body.However, I think it is worth mentioning that raw, unprocessed cocoa beans are among the highest scoring foods that have been tested.

In their study,”Cacao seeds are a "Super Fruit": A comparative analysis of various fruit powders and products”,Stephen J Crozier,Amy G Preston,Jeffrey W Hurst, Mark J Payne,Julie Mann,Larry Hainly and Debra L Miller have found thatCocoa powder and dark chocolate had equivalent or significantly greater ORAC, TP, and TF values compared to the other fruit powders and juices tested, respectively

Dark chocolate is loaded with organic compounds that are biologically active and function as antioxidants. These include polyphenols, flavanols, catechins, among others.In fact cocoa and dark chocolate contained more antioxidant activity, polyphenols and flavanols than other fruits they tested, which included blueberries and Acai berries.

14. Potential Cancer Prevention
It may be hard to believe, but that tasty dark chocolate you eat and love may also help you ward off cancer. That’s right — one of the benefits of dark chocolate is its potential as a cancer-fighting food.

According to the American Cancer Institute:
“Given chocolate’s rich supply of flavonoids, researchers have also investigated whether it may play a role in cancer prevention. The studies in cancer prevention are still emerging. A recent review of studies on the cancer protective properties of cocoa concluded that the evidence is limited but suggestive. More rigorous studies should be conducted on chocolates’ cancer protective role, concluded the author, because it provides ‘strong antioxidant effects in combination with a pleasurable eating experience.'”


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