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Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate and Other Types of Chocolate

Under: Food & Diet, General Health


Recent studies published in well-respected science journals state that moderate consumption of dark chocolate, but not other kinds of chocolates like milk chocolate or white chocolate, can yield some important health benefits.

“Dark chocolate”, also called “plain chocolate” or “black chocolate”, is chocolate produced with either zero or much less milk than milk chocolate, to which sugar and fat are added.

Dark chocolate is synonymous with semisweet and extra-dark, which contains even higher levels of cocoa, is also referred to as bittersweet.

The percentage of cocoa, in dark and extra-dark chocolate, is significantly higher than the cocoa levels in milk chocolate.

This is significant for at least 2 reasons:

1 – Milk is thought to interfere with the absorption into our bodies of the healthy and naturally occurring antioxidants, called polyphenols, which are found in the cocoa derived from the cocoa bean. Cocoa levels in dark chocolate can get as high as 90% or more. Levels in milk chocolate can be significantly less than 35%.  Antioxidants are important for your body because they protect you from disease-causing free radicals.

2 – The higher % of cocoa in dark chocolate results in higher levels of antioxidants which are thought to yield some of the health benefits of dark chocolate that will be discussed below.

The fatty acid profile of cocoa and dark chocolate is also excellent. The fats are mostly saturated and monounsaturated, with small amounts of polyunsaturated fat.

Dark chocolate also contains stimulants like caffeine and theobromine but is unlikely to keep you awake at night as the amount of caffeine is very small compared to coffee.


dark chocolate

Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate

Lowers Blood Pressure
An article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) revealed that dark chocolate lowers blood pressure.

Improves Vascular Function
Another study revealed the cocoa flavanols can stimulate the endothelium, the lining of arteries, to produce nitric oxide (NO). One of the functions of NO is to send signals to the arteries to relax, which lowers the resistance to blood flow and therefore reduces blood pressure.

Contains High Antioxidant Activity
A study published by Italy’s National Institute for Food and Nutrition Research, showed that the antioxidants in dark chocolate consume destructive free radicals that are associated with heart disease and other chronic degenerative diseases. This research also showed that milk either in the chocolate or consumed with the chocolate, will interfere with the absorption of the antioxidants in the dark chocolate and reduce or eliminate their potential benefits.

Another study showed that cocoa and dark chocolate had more antioxidant activity, flavanols and polyphenols than other fruits tested, including acai berries and blueberries.

So remember, not all chocolate is created equal and dark chocolate is always the healthier choice.  Enjoy it in small amounts as part of your balanced healthy diet.

To the Best of Health,

Curt Hendrix, M.S., C.C.N., C.N.S.