Have you spotted a health food junkie munching on a square of dark chocolate, perhaps professing it’s healthy because it’s dark chocolate, and wondered, “Is dark chocolate really healthy?” You’re right to be sceptical. After all, there are probably more health myths than truths, but is dark chocolate one of them?
Dark chocolate has a myriad of research-backed health benefits. It has been found to have more antioxidant activity and more flavnols, gram-for-gram, than fruit, so much so that Scientists have granted it superfood status. Here is a brief summary of just a few of the health benefits of dark chocolate:
- Promotes Weight Loss — Chocolate? Weight loss? At the University of Copenhagen, researchers discovered that eating dark chocolate helps to prevent sugar cravings, leading to feelings of satiety and a reduced risk of overeating.
- Prevents Diabetes — According to an Italian study, eating a small portion of dark chocolate for just 15 days caused a 50% decrease in insulin resistance. The flavonoids in dark chocolate increase production of nitric oxide, which helps to increase your body’s sensitivity to insulin.
- Boosts Heart Health — A 9-year study carried out in Sweden on over 31,000 women found that those who ate up to two weekly servings of dark chocolate (one serving = 20g, roughly two squares of Lindt dark chocolate) reduced their chance of heart disease by up to 33%. A German study discovered that a small square of dark chocolate eaten every day can reduce heart attack/stroke risk by 39%, as the flavonoids in the chocolate helps make your arteries and veins more flexible.
- Fights Stress — In Switzerland, researchers discovered that eating chocolate helps to reduce stress. Just 40 grams per day, over the course of two weeks, helped decrease the levels of stress hormones drastically in participants . The chocolate helped to mitigate the metabolism-slowing effects of chronically high cortisol levels (learn more about cortisol HERE).
- Improves Mood — Eating dark chocolate during pregnancy has been proven to help women cope with stress, and their babies were happier. Dark chocolate, similar milk chocolate, stimulates the production of endorphins – “feel good” chemicals that help boost your mood.
- Increases Intelligence — British researchers at the University of Nottingham found that drinking cocoa — loaded with flavonols — helps to increase blood flow to the regions of your brain that are responsible for cognitive function. Circulation was boosted for up to 3 hours, showing that cocoa could help to increase alertness and performance for a short amount of time. An Oxford study found that people who consumed flavonol-rich foods — including dark chocolate and red wine — scored higher on cognitive ability tests than people who consumed none.
Just remember, all these health benefits are from natural, unsweetened dark chocolate — or cocoa, as you’ll find it labeled on supermarket shelves. However, dark chocolate bars vary in cocoa content, which can affect the health benefits. Read on to find out which percent dark chocolate is best…
70%, 85%, 90%… What Percent Dark Chocolate is Best?
Supermarket labels for cocoa, cacao, and chocolate products show “% cacao” on them. This is referring to the amount of cacao (the natural source of chocolate) that is in the product, and the percentage of cacao affects the flavour and health benefits of that particular chocolate.
Not only does higher cacao percentage mean your food will have a stronger flavour, but it will also mean that you get the most health benefits. The lower the percentage cacao, the more the health benefits are diluted by full cream milk and sugar.
Keep this in mind when you go shopping — in terms of health benefits, the higher the cacao, the better!
TEG Tip: Ben prefers the hardcore 90%+ varieties, whereas Rob opts for 85% for a balance flavour and health benefits, without too much added bitterness. Neither of us choose 70% if at all possible, as we feel it’s too diluted to have enough health benefits to make it worth consuming regularly.