Do you ever want something sweet and start brainstorming reasons to purchase a chocolate bar? Although one of my favorite parts about being an adult is that justification isn’t necessary, we wanted to provide five proven dark chocolate health benefits. It’s no secret that the grocery stores typically have a dedicated aisle that is packed with chocolate bars. Which one do you normally grab and does it matter?
According to Statista, 48 million American enjoyed snickers in 2020 based on data from the U.S Census Date and National Consumer Survey. So, you aren’t alone in your quest for the perfect chocolate bar. You’ve likely noticed the different labels on chocolate bars that say things like organic, gluten free, raw, and so on . This raises the question of, Do these all have proven dark chocolate health benefits? Granted, we could continue to eat snickers, but as optimizers we wanted to let you know which chocolate has true health benefits.
What Type of Chocolate is Best for Proven Health Benefits?
When choosing a chocolate for health benefits, sadly, the creamy milk chocolate bar isn’t the one we are referring to. Chocolate was actually been called “Food of the Gods” by the Mayans, in South America. The Mayans did not eat chocolate as we do today. Back then, the cacao was mixed with water, cinnamon, and pepper as a hot beverage. Have you ever mixed raw cacao powder into milk and tasted bitterness? This bitterness is caused by polyphenols, they make up 10% of the cacao beans weight and are packed with nutrients.
It's no surprise that to improve the taste of chocolate, companies started using techniques to help reduce the bitterness. While the chocolate may taste better, this process also removes the amount of polyphenols up to ten fold. This removal of polyphenols is also removing the health benefits of cacao. It’s best to select the dark chocolate bar that has the highest percentage of cacao while limiting the added sugars.
Benefits of Dark Chocolate
Now that we've talked about what dark chocolate is and how to evaluate if you're getting health benefits from it, let's dig into the health benefits!
Decreased Blood Pressure
What if you found out that cocoa could decrease your risk for cardiovascular disease? One of the main contributors to cardiovascular disease is high blood pressure. High blood pressure is the culprit behind 50% of heart attacks and strokes, and 37% of deaths associated with cardiovascular disease. Can chocolate really help bring these numbers down? Research shows that cocoa contains flavanols, which cause our blood vessels to dilate and our blood pressure to decrease. No wonder dark chocolate is called the “food of the gods”, grab yourself a real cacao bar!
Stabilized Blood Sugar
Did you know that 1 in every 10 individuals in America has diabetes? According to the National Diabetes Statistics Report from the Center of Disease Control, that is 34 million Americans while and additional 88 million American adults are pre diabetic. We share these numbers to drive the importance of taking every little step we can to reverse and prevent diabetes. The flavanols that cacao provides can slow down the speed that your body absorbs and digests carbohydrates. When our bodies have the ability to slow down, this allows a more balanced blood sugar. While this is great news, the effect that chocolate has on your blood sugar is likely related to the amount of polyphenols that are present. The higher the percentage, the better!
Improved Gut Health
There’s been a spotlight on the importance of gut health in recent years and researchers have been diving deep. You can find countless supplements promising improved gut health, but what about the foods we can incorporate into our diet? If you guessed chocolate, you are correct! Although this research wasn’t conducted on a human, a pig showed an increase in beneficial microbes such as lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium in the feces and colon. For humans, there was an increase of the intestinal microbiota after four weeks of incorporating cocoa. This means cacao can impact our gut health in a positive way.
Boost Immune System
The last three health benefits we discussed can affect our immune system. Cacao in its natural form contains ingredients that provide antimicrobial activity. In one study, a cocoa extract was made using cocoa powder and hot water and used to see the effects of it on the influenza virus after vaccination. The cacao was able to increase the natural killer cells, an indicator of natural immunity, which helps protect us against viruses and other infections. Additionally, the cocoa could possibly provide stimulation of the immune system and prevent infection, due to being found in regions of our body that the virus may come into contact with. So, if you are wanting a warm beverage, consider a warm cup of hot cocoa before leaving the house.
Feel Good Food
If you’ve eaten chocolate before and felt good after, it wasn’t your imagination. Chocolate has the ability to act as an aphrodisiac! Due to the composition of cacao, in addition to small bits of caffeine and theobromine, it can cause you to feel good and relaxed. There’s also quite a few studies that show chocolate intake being associated with an improved cognitive function. This may be another reason you find yourself grabbing a chocolate bar after a stressful day!
How to Incorporate Dark Chocolate Into Your Diet
It could be as easy as grabbing a chocolate bar but your taste buds might need a gradual introduction to real cacao that can provide the proven dark chocolate health benefits. We wanted to share a few ways you can easily incorporate dark chocolate into your diet and limit the bitterness from the polyphenols while getting all the benefits.
- Mix Raw Cacao powder with honey, cinnamon, and your choice of milk
- Mix Cacao powder or a square of 70%+ dark chocolate into your oatmeal
- Add Cacao powder into smoothies for an extra boost
- Top thawed frozen black cherries and melted dark chocolate to greek yogurt
If there’s a way that you love incorporating dark chocolate, we’d love to hear! Tag us in your stories on instagram so we can see how you are getting your daily dose of dark chocolate. Be sure to test your health metrics using Vessel's test cards - click here to start your wellness journey!
To Sum Up
If you want the proven health benefits of dark chocolate, you’ll want to review the information on the product you grab when going down the aisle. Start out with a 65% cacao bar with low amounts of added sugar. You can gradually increase the percentage as your taste buds adjust. Dark chocolate can help boost your overall health through improving your blood sugar, blood pressure, mood, gut health, and even immune system function! If you aren’t seeking improvements in those areas of your health, you can simply enjoy the taste of good dark chocolate that’s been around for centuries.
Kaylee Noland See all the author’s articles