Silky, sweet, and smooth, chocolate has been adored for more than 3,000 years by cultures from around the world. Though considered by many to be a delicious treat, new research suggests chocolate might be better categorized as a “super food” that is more similar to the blueberry than the cupcake. There are at least 7 reasons to smile about this delicious food, each of which stems from the fact that chocolate is produced from cacao, a special seed that contains powerful concentrations of polyphenols, flavonoids, and anti-bacterial properties.
A word of caution: The health benefits of chocolate increase in proportion to its concentration of cacao. The most potent and nutritious form is dark chocolate, and the higher the natural concentration of cacao, the better. By contrast, milk chocolate contains little cacao and high concentrations of processed sugar. For this reason, milk chocolate does not deliver the health benefits described below and should still be eaten sparingly.
Benefits of Eating Dark Chocolate
1. Improve cardiovascular health.
Cacao is the seed from which cocoa and chocolate are made. This powerful extract is rich in polyphenols, a special type of molecule that can significantly improve cardiovascular health. According to the American Heart Association, the polyphenols in cacao have been shown to increase the bioavailability of nitric oxide, which leads to improvements in blood pressure, insulin resistance, and blood lipid levels (i).
2. Promote feelings of mental wellness.
Referred to by mental health professionals as the “feel good” neurotransmitter, serotonin is essential in stabilizing feelings of wellness and calm. In fact, modern medicine has linked feelings of depression, anxiety, and irritability with decreases in serotonin production. Consuming chocolate might help, however. According to nutritionist Carolanne Wright, the cacao in dark chocolate has the potential to promote feelings of calm, clarity, and bliss by stimulating the production of phenethylamine (PEA) while regulating serotonin (ii).
3. Reduce the risk of diabetes.
In addition to improving cardiovascular health, the polyphenols and flavonoids in cacao can significantly reduce the risk of diabetes. At the University of L’Aquilia, Italian researchers found that individuals who consumed about 40g of dark chocolate daily cut their risk of developing diabetes in half (iii).
4. Manage stress.
More than world-renowned chocolatiers, the Swiss are also actively involved in studying the health benefits of chocolate consumption. In a recent study, Swiss researchers found that individuals who suffer with anxiety could effectively reduce stress by eating about 1.5oz of cacao-rich dark chocolate each day (iv). As a result, individuals also experienced a reduction in the “stress hormone” cortisol, which may also help keep body fat in check.
5. Lower body fat percentage.
Though it might seem contradictory, numerous studies indicate that dark chocolate can help individuals reduce their body fat percentage and maintain a healthy body mass index (BMI). Dr. David Katz, founder of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University, recently commented on this phenomenon, explaining that antioxidants in dark chocolate reduce inflammation and mitigate the production of the stress hormones that would otherwise cause weight gain (v).
6. Sharpen mental clarity.
Studies now show that dark chocolate not only makes you feel better, but it can help you think better too. Over the course of 7 weeks, researchers found that individuals who drank liquid cacao each day could think faster and process information more quickly than those who did not (vi). Researchers made an equally exciting discovery when performing a follow-up test on the correlation between dark chocolate and cognitive ability: Participants’ cognitive abilities improved as flavonoid concentrations increased, demonstrating that purer chocolate has a more profound impact on mental health.
7. Fight tooth decay.
Researchers in Japan have released a new study that can really make everyone smile about chocolate. According to scientists at Osaka University, the husk of the cocoa bean has anti-bacterial properties that might significantly reduce the incidence of plaque, bacteria, and tooth decay (vii). Health experts are quick to warn patients of two important facts, however.
First, milk chocolate is heavily processed with sugar and milk, and it contains very little anti-bacterial properties. To gain the anti-bacterial benefits of cocoa, along with high counts of flavonoids and polyphenols, consumers must opt for a dark chocolate alternative with a naturally high cocoa concentration. Second, consumers must remember that both milk and dark chocolate contain sugar. In the absence of regular brushing, flossing, and dental checkups, sugar can easily become a leading contributor to both tooth decay and oral disease.
This health report has been published by Assure A Smile, Miami’s Home of Holistic Dentistry. Readers are invited to learn more about holistic dentistry online, or call our friendly front desk directly at 305-274-0047.
(i) “Cocoa and Cardiovascular Health.” American Heart Association. Accessed 8 July 2013.
(ii) “Top Ten Healthy Reasons to Eat Chocolate.” Natural News. Accessed 8 July 2013.
(iii) See above.
(iv) “Eat Chocolate and Live Longer.” Women’s Health Magazine. Accessed 9 July 2013.
(v) “Healthy Food: 50 of the Best in the World.” Huffington Post. Accessed 9 July 2013.
(vi) “Elderly Brains Get a Boost from Dark Chocolate.” Live Science. Accessed 9 July 2013.
(vii) “Chocolate ‘Fights’ Tooth Decay.” BBC News. Accessed 9 July 2013.