Many of us have heard that dark chocolate is good for our health, but rarely do we hear how or why. The health benefits of chocolate continue to expand as new research comes into play; ranging from decreased chances of heart disease to decreasing insulin resistance, a closer look at what dark chocolate has to offer might make us feel a little less guilty about those dark indulgences.
After reviewing numerous scientific studies on chocolate and heart disease, researchers from Harvard University found that cocoa and chocolate may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering blood pressure, decreasing harmful oxidation, and providing anti-inflammatory actions. Additionally, Diane Becker, a researcher with the John Hopkins University School of Medicine, found that blood platelets clotted more slowly in people who had eaten dark chocolate than in those who had not.
That’s great, but how exactly is dark chocolate doing all of this good? The simple answer: the abundance of antioxidant-rich flavonoids, the support of other phytochemicals, and high concentrations of certain vitamins and minerals. Research presented this year at the National Meeting & Exposition of the ACS appears to have identified the precise reason why dark chocolate is so beneficial. While it's known that cocoa powder is rich in antioxidants, it was thought that these molecules were poorly digested and absorbed due to their large size. The new study found, however, that the bacteria in our digestive tracts break down and ferments the components in dark chocolate, turning them into anti-inflammatory compounds that are beneficial to our health.
Antioxidants are believed to help the body's cells resist damage caused by free radicals that are formed by normal bodily processes, such as breathing, and from environmental contaminants, like pollution. If your body does not have enough antioxidants to combat oxidation, it can become damaged by free radicals. For example, an increase in oxidation can cause LDL, also known as "bad" cholesterol, to form plaque on the artery walls. Additionally, the copper and potassium in dark chocolate help prevent against stroke and support various cardiovascular functions, and the magnesium helps prevent type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
Moderation is a must (as with most things) when looking at dark chocolate as a “healthy” snack option. That said - there are a few ways to get more benefits from your bite. Although levels vary based on the beans, processing, and storing; the highest levels of beneficial flavonoids are in natural cocoa powder, except alkalized dutch cocoa, and unsweetened baking chocolate followed by dark chocolate bars and chips. So choose cocoa powder whenever possible for baking and making hot chocolate and aim for at least 70% dark chocolate when looking for a quick treat. Researchers have also suggested consuming dark chocolate with antioxidant-rich solid fruits, such as pomegranate or acai, or consuming cocoa along with prebiotics to encourage the conversion of anti-inflammatory compounds.
Be wary though and check the ingredients on products because the flavonoids are what make the chocolate bitter, so manufacturers often remove them or add additional sugar sweeteners.
For a vegan dark chocolate truffle recipe, click here.