Chocolate is regarded as little more than a desert food by most people. Unbeknownst to many, chocolate is packed with rich antioxidant compounds that help promote better health. These compounds may help remove excess toxins from the body, help support natural cardiovascular function, or even support cognitive performance. A quick overview of how chocolate has been used throughout history, and some of the latest research, can help show this superfood’s potential!
A Brief History
Chocolate has been used throughout human history as a medicinal compound, most notably for the cocoa ingredient. This compound has been called the Food of the Godseven, and has traditionally been used to treat fatigue, poor appetite, gout, fever, and even kidney stones . In fact, more than 100 medicinal uses for chocolate have been recorded throughout the years. While this food is most often found as a desert item in modern times—its medicinal history is certainly noteworthy. To get a better idea of just how cocoa can help promote better health, consider the following benefits and understanding as observed by modern science.
Helps Support Healthy Blood Pressure
Cocoa is full of beneficial compounds called flavonoids. One particular class of these compounds named flavanols have been regarded as beneficial to blood pressure. In one meta-analysis, researchers found that flavanol-rich cocoa compounds were able to significantly lower diastolic and systolic blood pressures. This is thought to be a product of the improved vascular function, and has been noted mostly in oral administration of dark chocolates and other cocoa-rich substances .
Powerful Antioxidant Action
One popular type of product in today’s consumer health market issuperfoods. This grouping includes such items as maca powder, goji berries, chlorella, and other nutrient dense natural foods. These products are often advertised as having strong antioxidant action, as well as a nutritional benefit as well. This type of action is most commonly attributed to polyphenols and flavanols, such as those found in chocolate. In one study published in the Journal Chemistry Central, researchers measured the antioxidant ‘power’ of cocoa with respect to other superfoods found on the market. They found that cocoa and dark chocolate offered as much, if not more, antioxidant potential as the other superfoods and, by definition, should be considered as such as well .
Helps Support Cognitive Function
Flavanol-containing compounds such as chocolate have shown a positive correlation with mental performance in many studies over the years. One such study found that among 90 elderly test subjects, those given a high-flavanol-containing beverage once a day for 8 weeks showed significantly-higher cognitive performance. This study was double-blind and placebo controlled, and measured the test subject’s performance on a verbal fluency test. The participants in this study were noted as having mild mental impairments prior to investigation. In addition to the increased mental performance, researchers also observed a significant drop in insulin resistance, cholesterol, and blood pressure—while staying in health ranges. Overall, this study paints a strong case for the benefits of cocoa and cocoa flavanol-containing products .
One often overlooked factor in health and nutrition are micronutrients and mineral consumption. Macros like carbs, fats, and protein often get all the attention in the media with diets like Gluten Free, Paleo, and Pescatarian hogging all the rest. Truth be told; minerals and vitamins are important regardless of what diet you are currently on. Most diets are actually just novel new ways to provide your body with ample vitamins and minerals while maintaining a balance of fats and energy suitable to your lifestyle. Depending on what type of chocolate products you are consuming, you may be able to add a very decent amount of nutrition into your overall dietary intake. For example, a serving of dark chocolate made of roughly 75% cocoa can provide as much as 10% of your daily recommended magnesium intake . This isn’t to say that dark chocolate should be considered an appropriate substitute for a quality magnesium supplement, or other dietary intake, but worth remembering nonetheless! Magnesium deficiencies are thought to affect a large part of the world population, with data from the US indicating that as much as 70% of the entire country may suffer from such a nutritional deficiency.
Chocolate is commonly thought of as a desert food with little benefit beyond dietary recreation. The truth is that pure, natural chocolates are loaded with beneficial compounds that have shown a wide range of health benefits in scientific study. Cocoa has been shown to be as powerful an antioxidant as products commonly sold as superfoods in the supplement market. Chocolate bars should always be consumed in moderation as they contain high levels of sugar—even natural sugar—and could contribute negatively to blood glucose levels in excess. There’s always room for learning how the foods we eat may positively benefit us, and chocolate is one that holds tremendous promise!