The most appealing benefits of dark chocolate are its great taste and its mood-elevating effect. However, there are less familiar, cocoa-rich interesting facts about chocolate that you should know about!
The interesting facts about chocolate relate actually to its health benefits rather than to its good taste! Cocoa and dark chocolate products have been recognized as significant sources of the flavanols catechin and epicatechin, as well as other substances with healthful effects.
Health benefits of dark chocolate include:
Beneficial Antioxidant Effect
Like some other plant-derived foods, flavanol-rich cocoa products have antioxidant properties. According to latest researches, dark chocolate contains up to 3 times the antioxidants found in black tea!
Relieving Persistent Cough
This is one of the most interesting facts about chocolate: Dark chocolate can help you get rid of various types of cough! Cocoa beans contain Theobromine, which is chemically related to caffeine (they both belong to the methylxanthine class of chemical compounds). However, it lacks caffeine's stimulant effect on the central nervous system. Moreover, theobromine has a suppressing effect on the vagus nerve, which is responsible for causing coughing. As opposed to cough medicines that contain antihistamines (and therefore may cause drowsiness and other side effects) - theobromine appears to have no such negative effects.
However, Dark chocolate will not solve all types of cough! For example, if a chronic cough results from Gastro-esophageal Reflux, than the chocolate might even worsen the Reflux-symptoms, by inducing relaxation of the lower-esophageal sphincter (muscle).
Beneficial Effect on Cardiovascular Functions and Blood Pressure
Current health articles indicate that flavanol-rich foods - such as cocoa and cocoa products - induce cardioprotective effects with respect to vascular function and platelet reactivity. The flavanol-rich dark chocolate increases the bioavailability of Nitric Oxide, an important messenger molecule, that was shown to induce vasodilatation, improve vascular function, and reduce blood pressure and blood lipids.
Similar to low-dose aspirin, cocoa flavanols may improve platelet function by reducing platelet adhesion and aggregation. Moreover, stearic acid found in chocolate may reduce mean platelet volume. These effects can improve blood circulation and reduce the risk for blood clots, thus reducing the risk of stroke and myocardial infarction.
Cocoa-derived flavanols can reduce the production and effect of pro-inflammatory mediators in our body. Therefore,encouragel-rich cocoa could contribute to the prevention of chronic diseases that are linked to dysfunctional inflammatory responses.
Insulin Sensitivity Improvement
Flavanols and dietary antioxidants may improve insulin sensitivity and β-cell function, by increasing Nitric Oxide bioavailability. Consequently, while balancing total glucose intake, flavanols from cocoa products may provide some health benefit if included as part of a healthy diet for patients with diabetes.
A Significant Magnesium Source
Magnesium is a vital component to calcium absorption. It is also involved in many basic processes in our body, such as: nerve and muscle relaxation, regulation of blood sugar level, heart rhythm control, immune function and more. Dark chocolate is ultra rich in magnesium and can serve as one tasty source of magnesium.
Short-Term Mood Elevation
Chocolate consumption has long been associated with reduced hunger, elevated mood and increased activation. It may interact with a number of neurotransmitter systems (including dopamine, serotonin and endorphins) that contribute to mood elevation and satiety. Specific chocolate craving is different than craving for sweets and carbohydrates in the context of "emotional eating". If chocolate is consumed as part of comforting emotional eating - it might aggravate guilt and dysphoric mood, rather than provide a feeling of pleasure and joy.
The Association of Chocolate with the Metabolic Syndrome: Positive or Negative?
Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of factors associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Cardio-metabolic disorders are largely preventable, and diet is one of the key lifestyle factors involved in its genesis... or prevention.
The many health benefits of Cocoa include anti-hypertensive and anti-thrombotic effects, positive influence on insulin sensitivity, vascular endothelial function, and activation of nitric oxide.
According to the research of Buitrago-Lopez and her colleagues in the University of Cambridge (published in the British Medical Journal, 2011), high levels of cocoa products and chocolate consumption were associated with a reduction of about a third in the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and stroke.
On the other hand, we must not forget that an over-consumption of chocolate can lead to weight gain, which is a risk factor for hypertension, diabetes and cardio metabolic disorders in general...
Well, the existing studies generally agree on a potential beneficial effect of chocolate consumption on the risk of cardio metabolic disorders, so I encourage you to prefer cocoa-rich dark chocolate over other types of chocolate snacks, that contain more fat and sugar!
As you can see, the health benefits of dark chocolate are impressive; however, there are few harmful effects to consider before starting to consume huge amounts of this delicious food...
Despite its high fat content, cocoa butter seems to have a neutral effect on cholesterol. The fats in cocoa butter are largely Oleic Acid and Stearic acid: Oleic Acid is a healthy mono-unsaturated fat that is also found in olive oil; And Stearic acid is a type of saturated fat that does not seem to effect lipid metabolism or elevate cholesterol levels.
Less than 1/3 of the fat in dark chocolate is Palmitic Acid, which is an unhealthy saturated fat that might raise cholesterol and heart disease risk if consumed in large quantities.
Commercially available chocolates often contain other ingredients, such as nougat, caramel, and other processed fats with a high level of sugar. That's why you should go for the Pure dark chocolate - cocoa-rich (at least 60%) and low in sugar!
Don't harm your healthy balanced diet by eating huge amounts of chocolate! Most of the research regarding the health benefits of dark chocolate was based on chocolate consumption of less than 100grams (about 3.5 ounces) per day. Remember that chocolate is still a high-calorie food, so eat it instead of harmful snacks and sweets in order to keep your total calories balanced.