Did you know that dark chocolate is considered a superfood? Yes, you heard me right. Endless studies agree that 70% or higher dark chocolate (the higher the percentage, the better) supports heart health, mood, blood flow, helps to balance cholesterol, and a myriad of other impressive health benefits.
Without further ado, let's explore some of the reasons you can feel great about eating dark chocolate.
Chocolate is a mood booster: and it's not just because it tastes good that eating chocolate makes you happy. Studies show that eating dark chocolate actually works on a chemical level to boost your mood. Dark chocolate contains compounds that stimulate endorphins, the same compounds released after you exercise or laugh.
Endorphins are not the only brain chemicals linked to chocolate consumption. Together with dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin, these four neurotransmitters form the quartet responsible for our happiness, and they are all released when we eat chocolate.
Eating a square of dark chocolate (ideally 80% or higher) daily for two weeks has been shown to lower cortisol levels, the body's primary stress hormone. Another study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology similarly found that eating dark chocolate with 70% cocoa or higher (contains more polyphenols and flavonoids) can lower levels of cortisol, meaning it can help manage stress
A growing body of data has emerged supporting the role of diet, especially polyphenols, which have anxiolytic and antidepressant-like properties. Flavonoids are a family of polyphenolic compounds. Cocoa powder and chocolate (particularly dark chocolate) contain a high percentage of flavonoids that display several beneficial actions on the brain.
In more ways than one, chocolate, in moderation, is beneficial to overall brain health.
Most of these benefits come exclusively from cocoa, meaning that the darker the chocolate, the healthier it will be.
I talk a lot about the gut-brain axis and mood. Consumption of dark chocolate resulted in the increased relative abundance of the probiotic Lactobacillus in this study which shows the probiotic potential of chocolate.
Fun fact: Eating dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa) can create radiant skin health from the inside out. Vitamins A, B1, C, D, E, and iron and calcium—all of which are found in this sweet treat—come together to help improve the skin's moisture, protect it from sun damage, and even aid in reducing wrinkles.
Certain compounds in dark chocolate seem to protect against the harmful effects of LDL cholesterol ("bad") cholesterol, causing less cholesterol to get lodged in the arteries and a lesser risk of heart disease. One study of 470 men found that cocoa eaten over a 15 year period lowered their risk of death from heart disease by a whopping 50%!
Healthy cholesterol levels aren't just about lower numbers across the board. It has a lot to do with the type of cholesterol (HDL vs. LDL) and gets even more detailed than that. In short, cocoa has been found to raise HDL ("good") cholesterol while lowering LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels. This is likely due to its high content of potent antioxidants that, when in the bloodstream, protect lipoproteins against oxidative damage.
If this doesn't make your day, we don't know what will! If dark chocolate is new to you, think of it like coffee - an acquired taste. If you're used to milk chocolate, slowly choose chocolate with higher cacao content until you reach 70% or more. As you eat less sugar in general, your body adjusts and stops craving such sweet tastes!
A portion size of dark chocolate is one ounce, which is usually around one or two squares. Check the package to make sure you're not over-indulging, as even dark chocolate has a moderate amount of sugar and roughly 170 calories per ounce.
So enjoy a square or two, it's good for you. You’re welcome!