Dark chocolate: properties, benefits

Dark chocolate is good from many points of view: the cardiovascular system, the mood and the palate. It even seems to be able to extend life. Let’s discover the properties and benefits of dark chocolate.

Nine out of ten people are said to love chocolate. There are those who prefer it dark and those with milk, but if we think in terms of health, the dark one is certainly better. A filled chocolate and a square of milk chocolate are not comparable, in terms of properties, to a square of dark chocolate.

The healthiest ingredient in chocolate is cocoa; the more cocoa there is, the greater the properties of the final product. The best dark chocolate for health is the one that contains at least 70-80% cocoa, or the classic “extra dark chocolate” or “black chocolate”.

This food comes from Theobroma cacao, a tree originally from South America and in particular from the seeds of this plant. Chocolate is a food very rich in both saturated and monounsaturated fats; among the monounsaturated ones, the most represented is oleic acid, a fatty acid with anti-inflammatory properties that we also find in our olive oil. The most present saturated fatty acids are stearic and palmitic acid.

In addition, dark chocolate contains a high amount of minerals such as magnesium, potassium, copper and iron. However, what makes chocolate so beneficial for our health are the polyphenols contained in it, natural substances particularly present in many products of the plant kingdom and which have been shown to have multiple properties. Among these polyphenols the most abundant are catechins, anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins.

According to some studies, chocolate loses all its antioxidant properties when accompanied with milk. The milk, in fact, “captures” the epicatechins (flavonoids) preventing their absorption in the intestine and thus reducing the cardioprotective effects of cocoa.

Properties and benefits of dark chocolate

Dark chocolate is one of the best known and most appreciated foods. But this is not enough: dark chocolate is also a useful food, a panacea, a mine of polyphenols with an antioxidant and anti- inflammatory action, an important feature of this food. Including it in the diet can therefore have beneficial repercussions on our health, let’s see what they are.

✓ Dark chocolate extends life

A study showed that, in a sample of 470 men aged between 65 and 84 and kept under observation for 15 years, those who consumed a certain amount of cocoa had a lower mortality rate. People who regularly drank cocoa had lower blood pressure values ​​and, therefore, less exposure to cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke. The cardiovascular protection due to cocoa, and therefore to dark chocolate, which contains a lot of it, would be due to the high content of antioxidants, in particular flavonoids.

✓ Dark chocolate is good for the cardiovascular system

A group of scholars has emphasized the qualities of bitter dark chocolate; rich in flavonoids and, in particular, in epicatechin, a substance that acts on the muscle fibers of the heart allowing the arteries to remain flexible and dilated. The ability of the arteries to remain open, that is, open and dilated, is the quality that allows the heart to protect itself from unfortunate events such as heart attacks. Furthermore, the consumption of dark chocolate, but not white chocolate, leads to a lowering of blood pressure.

✓ Improvement of the HDL / LDL cholesterol ratio

Several studies have also evaluated the effect of dark chocolate consumption on dyslipidimias and on cholesterol and triglyceride values. Although there is no evidence of a lowering of blood triglycerides due to the consumption of this food, a lowering of LDL cholesterol values ​​and an increase of HDL cholesterol values ​​have been noted.

✓ Chocolate is a natural antidepressant

Chocolate stimulates the production of serotonin and therefore has an exciting and antidepressant action on the nervous system. Serotonin is a hormone produced by the brain that determines good mood. When production is not sufficient, there is a risk of depression; many antidepressants have the function of normalizing serotonin levels. Therefore, chocolate has a natural antidepressant action.

✓ Improve sports performance

Among the properties of dark chocolate there is also that of being used by athletes to improve performance. In particular, the consumption of chocolate seems to improve tissue oxygenation, thus increasing the blood supply to the muscles. Furthermore, the consumption of chocolate would improve recovery and avoid muscle damage when taken immediately after exercise and then again after 2 hours.

✓ Protects from neurodegenerative diseases

Chocolate also appears to have a protective effect against some common neurodegenerative diseases such as senile dementia and Alzheimer’s. In particular, its ability to stimulate the production of nitric oxide could inhibit or decrease the production of beta amyloid, the protein involved in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s.

✓ Helps maintain a healthy weight

Despite being a caloric food, if introduced in the right quantities and combined with constant physical activity, chocolate not only does not make you fat but, on the contrary, seems to be a valid ally in weight loss. This property would be due to the synergy of several characteristics. First of all, thanks to the presence of fiber, chocolate increases satiety and decreases the sense of hunger by acting on the production of ghrelin, the hormone responsible for the sense of hunger. Furthermore, it seems that the consumption of chocolate helps to reduce the absorption of fats and carbohydrates, especially in overweight subjects.

✓ Has a preventive effect on oncological diseases

Since many types of tumor pathologies are connected to a state of chronic inflammation, the consumption of the polyphenols present in dark chocolate are able to slow down the progression of some tumor pathologies. These results were obtained in experiments conducted on animals and would be due to the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity carried out by the polyphenols themselves.

✓ Beneficial in case of diabetes

If you are wondering if it is possible to eat dark chocolate with diabetes, you should know that the polyphenols contained have been seen to improve the insulin sensitivity of peripheral tissues and stimulate insulin production. For these reasons, not only is it not contraindicated, but dark chocolate could be a valuable aid in the management of type 2 diabetes mellitus, the most common form of diabetes. However, it should be emphasized that particular attention must be paid to the choice of the product as many products contain a large amount of sugar, which instead would worsen the situation. In this case it is better to choose an extra 100% sugar-free dark chocolate.

✓ Dark chocolate is good for the intestine

Eating dark chocolate is also good for the intestine. This is because the production of chocolate begins with the fermentation of the seeds which leads to the growth of microorganisms of bacterial and fungal origin. These microorganisms produce a series of substances useful for the well-being of our intestinal microbiota. Furthermore, it would seem that the consumption of dark chocolate also has a direct effect, thanks to the action of polyphenols, on the composition of our intestinal bacterial flora, leading to an increase in lactobacilli and bifidobacteria.

Dark chocolate: calories and how much to eat

We have seen how the consumption of this food can be beneficial for our health, however we must deal with the other side of the coin: it is a caloric product (the calories of dark chocolate are 545 per 100 grams of food) and it can be very sugary, therefore the chocolate to be consumed must be chosen carefully and eaten in the right quantities.

First of all we show you how to choose the best dark chocolate: as we mentioned at the beginning of the article, most of the beneficial effects are due to the polyphenol content of the chocolate and the polyphenols are found in cocoa: the higher the percentage of cocoa, the higher the effect! You have seen, for example, that consuming white chocolate did not produce the same effects on cardiovascular health as dark chocolate. So, choose chocolate with at least 70/80% cocoa and pay attention to the amount of sugar: less is more. So green light for extra-dark bitter chocolate!

This food can be used for snacks or to finish off a meal, but how much to eat? As for the quantity necessary to obtain benefits, being a rather caloric food, it is advisable not to consume more than 10/15 grams per day if eaten regularly (equal to about 2-3 squares of a bar), alternatively they can be eaten up to 30 grams of chocolate in a day, considering however a sporadic use of the food.

Contraindications of dark chocolate

Dark chocolate, despite all its properties, is not a suitable food for those suffering from gastritis, gastroesophageal reflux, ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome. Having a vasodilating effect, it should also be avoided in case of headache. As we have already said, dark chocolate is quite caloric, so it should not be abused. However, the correlation between chocolate consumption and acne has never been scientifically proven. Finally, excessive use could cause transient intestinal disorders (such as diarrhea or stomach pain).


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