It turns out, your body’s love for dark chocolate goes well beyond your taste buds. There is no doubt that chocolate is very commonly desired, which is one reason it lends itself to wellness writers across the world in February, the unofficial month of chocolate. An even better reason for us to spread the word, however, is the ever-growing sweet evidence for why dark chocolate is such a powerful food. The proof lies in deep, rich, and satisfying science!
Improve Blood Sugar levels.
Difficulty in regulating blood sugar and insulin resistance are common reasons for obesity and heart disease, but a handful of studies now show that you can actually decrease your blood sugar levels with the consumption of dark chocolate. Hgb-a1c, which measures long-term glucose levels, has been shown to be lower in children with diabetes who consume moderate amounts of dark chocolate (and with adjustments for other variables). This benefit is likely due to components of dark chocolate called flavonoids, which are also found in tea, berries, and red wine.
Decrease Blood Pressure.
The flavonoids credited for improving blood sugar have also been credited with leading to decreases in blood pressure as well as improvements in blood flow. Dark chocolate is also high in magnesium, a muscle relaxant that will literally “relax” your capillaries, expanding them and resulting in lower pressure.
Just last year, Food Science outlined a study that again confirmed what we had theorized as a potential to decrease cholesterol related to consuming cocoa. It showed, likely due to naturally occurring phytosterols in dark chocolate, that not only do levels of total cholesterol become lower, but also LDL (the “bad” cholesterol), and triglycerides (often related to blood- sugar imbalance) are lowered. However, HDL (the “good” cholesterol) remained unchanged. Phytosterols in supplement form are credited with not only helping to control general cholesterol levels, but have also shown some efficacy in controlling cholesterol particle size, which much current cholesterol research surrounds.
Decrease Your Chance for Stroke.
In addition to lowering your blood pressure, which in and of itself will decrease your chance for stroke, the components of dark chocolate are believed to lead to endothelial improvement. The endothelium is the inner lining of arteries and capillaries, and microscopic wounds in it are the first step in both strokes and heart attacks. Flavonoids and other components literally heal and protect this lining, so that sticky passing cholesterol flowing by in the blood will not stick to the lining, and not eventually lead to a clot in that capillary or artery. Canadian scientists performed a study involving 44,489 people and found that people eating chocolate were 22 percent less likely to suffer a stroke than those who didn’t. Also, those who had a stroke but regularly consumed chocolate were 46 percent less likely to suffer a fatal stroke.
A study in the Journal of the American Heart Association suggests that dark chocolate helps to improve ability to distance walk for those with peripheral artery disease, also likely due to those “smooth” endothelia.
Prevent Cognitive Decline.
Resveratrol and other anti-oxidant components are credited with protecting nerve tissue, which is associated with a decrease in Alzheimer’s and dementia. This effect would be further amplified with the presence of flavonoids, which, you may recall, increase blood flow. Increased blood flow to the brain has been estimated to last for 2 to 3 hours after consumption. Other researchers from Oxford confirmed at least the link to a sharper mind
in general when they looked at chocolate’s long-term effects on the brain by studying the diets of more than 2,000 people over age 70. They found that those who consumed flavonoid-rich chocolate, wine, or tea scored significantly higher on cognitive tests than those who didn’t.
We can also likely credit stress-relieving virtues of dark chocolate to its high magnesium content. With its muscle relaxing effect, magnesium is a great stress reliever. We can’t discount the simple fact that most of us find joy in eating chocolate as well, which will stimulate a natural release of relaxing and pleasing endorphins.
Swiss scientists confirmed our joy when they found that when very anxious people ate an ounce and a half of dark chocolate every day for two weeks, their stress hormone levels were significantly reduced and the metabolic effects of stress were decreased.
You might be asking, what is the caveat to all of this good news? Many of us are accustomed to chocolate that has been combined with milk and sugar, driving up its calorie and fat content, and worse, driving its flavonoid and nutrient content down. To reap the benefits without adding risk, you have to stick to chocolate that is at least 70% cocoa, which is why I have been referring to it as “dark” chocolate throughout the article. And because even dark chocolate contains sugar, you also have to stick to moderate amounts (probably around an ounce or two a day, or a few ounces a few times per week). Dark chocolate will typically lessen cravings for other sweets and trigger satiety centers sooner that creamier milk chocolate, so this might be easier than you think.
The virtues of dark chocolate are hard to ignore when we list even a few of them as I have done above. Imagine if we could offer you a medicine that helps to partially correct for all of the risk factors implicated in cardiovascular health: to improve your blood sugar, decrease your blood pressure, decrease your cholesterol, and decrease inflammation in your capillaries? Well, we can … and we can call it dessert.
Stay healthy & be well!
– Amy Whittington, NMD
The information on this website is not intended to nor should it be taken as a substitute for a one-on-one consultation with a qualified health care professional and should not be taken as medical advice. Dr. Amy Whittington encourages you to make your own health care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with you personal health care professional.