Scientific studies have shown that dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants and contains lots of nutrients, making it a snack that promotes good health.

Antioxidants and Their Importance

Free radicals are a part of the biochemicals that exist in our body as a  part of natural metabolism. The problem occurs when there is an imbalance between these free radicals and our anti-oxidants that also exist naturally. When they are not properly balanced it induces what is called “oxidative stress”. In this situation the  “pro-oxidant” molecules called free radicals interrupt basic body functions. The result is a risk of the development a multitude of health problems such as cancer  and heart disease. Antioxidants are considered free radical scavengers, mopping up excess free radicals.

Dark chocolate contains phytonutrients-plant based substances -called flavonoids, which act as antioxidants and may play a role in cancer prevention and heart health, according to research published online  by the National Library of Medicine The cacao plant that chocolate is derived from also contains a compound called theobromine, which acts as an anti-inflammatory in the body. They say, “Cacao is packed with numerous antioxidants in a greater amount  than you get in green tea or red wine. The darker you go, the more antioxidants you’ll get, but there needs to be a balance between eating palatable dark chocolate and getting the health benefits.” Your best bet is choosing a dark chocolate bar with 70 percent cacao or higher as  lower percent sources are likely to contain more sugar and fat, limiting the health benefits according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Despite the benefits of dark chocolate it is important to remember not to overdue its use. A small amount, not more than an ounce per day is recommended. The caloric and fat content will cause a person to gain weight if too much chocolate is eaten regularly, even the healthy dark variety.

Dark Chocolate May Help Prevent Heart Disease and Lower Stroke Risk

systematic review and meta-analysis of many studies taken together, showed that dark eating chocolate once per week was associated with an 8 percent lower risk of  arterial blockages. Another study which analyzed data from 188,000 veterans showed that eating about 1 oz of chocolate every day  was associated with a lower risk of coronary arterial disease. The Research indicates that it’s the flavonoids in dark chocolate that benefit the heart. These phytochemicals help produce the substance called nitric oxide, which relaxes blood vessels and lowers blood pressure as per a research review.

Dark Chocolate May Improve Cognition, Prevent Memory Loss, and Boost Your Mood

Studies seem to indicate that eating dark chocolate with high percentages of cacao, may contribute to maintaining your brain health. According to food scientists Joy DuBost, PhD, RD,the  research indicates that chocolate stimulates neural activity in areas of the brain associated with pleasure and reward, which in turn decreases stress and can  improve mood.

Several studies have begun to narrow down just how chocolate can impact the brain, including research that found eating a little more than 1.5 oz — of 70-percent cacao organic chocolate increased neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to form new synaptic connections, which could have positive effects on memory, cognition, and mood.

Another study found that memory and learning could be enhanced by chocolate consumption, as the flavonoids found in the cacao beans tends to accumulate in areas of the brain responsible for those functions. Further research even linked the consumption of dark chocolate to reduced risk of clinical depression.

Larger studies need to be  conducted, to further the research and understand the mechanisms involved in these observations.

Dark Chocolate Could Reduce the Risk of Developing Diabetes

Eating chocolate every day doesn’t sound like the best way to prevent diabetes, but studies have shown healthy amounts of dark chocolate rich in cacao could actually improve how the body metabolizes glucose when eaten as part of a healthy diet. Insulin resistance causes high blood glucose (sugar) and is the hallmark of type 2 diabetes, per research.

In one study, the flavonoids in dark chocolate were found to reduce oxidative stress, which scientists think is the primary cause of insulin resistance. By improving your body’s sensitivity to insulin, resistance is reduced and the risk of diseases like diabetes decreases.

Another study showed that participants who rarely consumed chocolate had almost twice the risk of developing diabetes five years down the road, compared with participants who indulged in dark chocolate at least once per week.

While researchers agree dark chocolate possesses many health benefits, further study is needed to determine if there is a cause-and-effect relationship between chocolate consumption and diabetes risk.

Chocolate Is Good for Your Gut

Eating chocolate every day probably seems like the last way to lose weight, but research suggests dark chocolate may play a role in controlling appetite, which in turn could help with weight loss. Neuroscientist Will Clower, PhD, wrote a book on the subject called Eat Chocolate, Lose Weight, which describes how eating a bit of dark chocolate before or after meals triggers hormones that signal to the brain you’re full. Of course, eating more than the recommended amount per day can counteract any potential weight loss, and eating dark chocolate will not counteract the effects of an overall unhealthy diet.

Research has found that during digestion, chocolate behaves like a prebiotic (not to be confused with probiotic), a type of fiber that encourages the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. The more “good” microbes are in your system, the better your body is able to absorb nutrients, as well as support a healthy metabolism, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

It Fights Free Radicals and May Play a Role in Cancer Prevention

Evidence that dark chocolate possesses properties that could help protect against certain types of cancer is limited but growing. Antioxidants protect our cells from damage caused by free radicals, which are unstable oxygen molecules thought to be responsible for aging and disease, per research.

“When you have too many free radicals in your body, they start to attack your cells, and that can lead, over time, to low-grade inflammation and to some diseases — cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s,” Dr. DuBost says.

According to the American Cancer Society, eating a diet rich in flavonoids, which chocolate is full of, can help prevent cell damage that is often the precursor to many cancers. Research has found that of the many flavonoids in chocolate, one known as epicatechin is believed to be responsible for its cancer-fighting properties. Chocolate also tends to be a good source of magnesium, per USDA data, and one study found that the body’s immune cells can target abnormal or infected cells only in a magnesium-rich environment.

Dark Chocolate is Good for Your Skin

The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health lists vitamins and minerals that dark chocolate is packed full of — like copper, iron, magnesium, and manganese  are also beneficial to your skin. Also Research indicates that the levels of antioxidants that exist in dark chocolate may protect skin from the ultraviolet (UV) rays emitted by the sun which cause aging and wrinkling of the skin

Dark Chocolate Can Increase Good Cholesterol and Lower Bad Cholesterol

According to  one study, study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association dark chocolate may have a positive impact on blood  lipid measurements by lowering total cholesterol while raising good cholesterol-  and thus lower heart disease risk
They state , ”  Our results demonstrate that consumption of almonds alone or combined with dark chocolate under controlled‐feeding conditions improves lipid profiles. Incorporating almonds, dark chocolate, and cocoa into a typical American diet without exceeding energy needs (consuming too many calories)  may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.

Cocoa butter also contains oleic acid, the monounsaturated fat also found in olive oil, as per MedlinePlus.

Dark Chocolate Is Nutritious

Along with its other health promoting contents dark chocolate contains a lot of nutrients.

Dark chocolate is rich in the following:

The darker the chocolate the better, but above the 70-percent level dark chocolate content may not be palatable. Thus using it in small amounts for its health benefits  is most convenient. Ideally organic chocolate is best because it’s grown without the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides (look for Rainforest Alliance Certified products). And checking the ingredients is the best way to make sure you’re consuming the best product that has the most natural ingredients.

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