For all of you chocolate lovers out there, we’ve got the perfect scientifically-backed excuse for you to indulge, proving that dark chocolate made from cacao beans is loaded with nutrients that can positively affect your health. As one of the best sources of antioxidants on the planet, studies show that dark chocolate (the kind with low sugar and high cacao content) can improve your health and lower the risk of heart disease.  

Read on to discover the health benefits of dark chocolate!

HEART HEALTH

Cacao is rich in plant chemicals called flavanols that help to protect the heart. The flavanols found in cacao have been shown to encourage the creation of nitric oxide within the inner cell lining of blood vessels, which can reduce inflammation, improve blood flow and lead to lower blood pressure. Also, both theobromine and high levels of magnesium found in cacao help to relax blood vessels for better blood flow. Additionally, cacao powder, which is high in antioxidants, has been linked to significantly decrease oxidized LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol) and has been found to increase HDL and lower the total LDL for those with high cholesterol. Long term, this would prevent much less cholesterol from accumulating in the arteries, resulting in a lower risk of heart disease.

NUTRITION

Dark chocolate with 70–85% cacao is loaded with minerals and contains rich amounts of fiber, iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, potassium, zinc and selenium. It should be noted that dark chocolate is high in calories (150-170 calories per ounce) and a moderate amount of saturated fat, so is best consumed in healthy moderation. Studies suggest a link between high cacao or chocolate intake of 6 grams daily (1-2 small squares) and a reduced risk of heart disease and mortality. Apart from curbing food cravings, dark chocolate can also work as an appetite suppressant and metabolic stimulant. 

REDUCES STRESS & IMPROVES DIGESTION

Cacao beans contain polyphenols, a powerful antioxidant that reduces the levels of two stress hormones in your body: cortisol and catecholamines. Research shows that daily dark chocolate consumption normalizes stress-related differences in energy metabolism and gut microbial activities leading to reduced stress and better digestion! Studies by Frontiers in Pharmacology cited that during digestion, chocolate behaves like a prebiotic, a type of fiber that encourages the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. The more “good” microbes that are in your system, the better your body is able to absorb nutrients as well as support a healthy metabolism.

IMPROVES MOOD

Cacao beans contain anandamide that works as an antidepressant. This neurotransmitter only found elsewhere in marijuana, activates pleasure receptors in the brain. It also contains Tryptophan, an amino acid that’s a powerhouse at creating serotonin, which produces feelings of relaxation and well-being. 

RADIANT HAIR, SKIN AND NAILS

Dark chocolate is packed full of vitamins and minerals that are beneficial to your hair, skin and nails. Manganese, for example, supports the production of collagen, a protein that helps keep skin looking young and healthy. Other minerals, like calcium, help repair and renew skin. The sulfur in cacao is important for detoxification by the liver and for healthy hair, skin, and nails. The powerful flavonoids in dark chocolate protect against UV damage, improve blood flow to the skin, increase skin density and hydration, improving its overall appearance.

IMPROVES BRAIN FUNCTION

Dark chocolate may also contribute to improved brain health and cognitive functioning. A study by The FASEB Journal proved that the high levels of flavonoids found in dark chocolate have accumulated in regions of the brain responsible for learning and memory. Further research demonstrated that eating 48 grams of organic chocolate with 70 percent cacao increased neuroplasticity in the brain, which could have positive effects on memory, cognition, and mood. Cacao beans also contain caffeine and theobromine which stimulate blood flow in the brain, improving short term brain function, decreasing fatigue, and increasing cardiac activity. 

REDUCES RISK OF DIABETES

Research has shown healthy amounts of dark chocolate rich in cacao can improve how the body metabolizes glucose. Insulin resistance causes high blood glucose (sugar), the trigger for type 2 diabetes. Flavonoids in dark chocolate have been 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, thereby reducing the risk of developing diabetes.

Now that you have a convincing list of the many health benefits associated with dark chocolate, you are probably getting the cravings to snack on some! Make sure to choose quality chocolate — dark chocolate with 70% or higher cacao content to obtain the most flavanols. To avoid overindulging, it’s best to eat a little piece by itself after a solid meal or include it in a recipe. Start with around one ounce per day to keep your calorie consumption under control. 

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