Dark chocolate has been known for its nutritional qualities for some time, but more recent studies have shown that dark chocolate may actually provide a number of other health benefits such as reduced blood pressure and protection against free radicals.
Just 100 grams of dark chocolate contains more than half of the daily requirements of magnesium and iron. It is also high in potassium, zinc and other minerals.
A quick break-down of some of these minerals shows how important they are in our daily diet.
Magnesium is required to keep the body’s nerves and muscles functioning normally, to keep bones strong, and to support the immune system. It also helps to keep the heart beating steadily, aids stable blood sugar levels and plays a role in keeping blood pressure at an acceptable level.
Iron carries oxygen around the body and helps to make energy from food. Potassium keeps kidneys healthy and muscles functioning, while zinc is needed for a strong immune system and cell division.
Dark chocolate can therefore help all these functions of the body, but to be absorbed effectively, these minerals need to interact with other vitamins and minerals, so a balanced diet is required. Sadly, this means we can’t survive on dark chocolate alone. However, dark chocolate may be provide even more health benefits than first thought.
In 2003, a small-scale study from the University of Cologne reported that dark chocolate might help to reduce high blood pressure. A group of thirteen men and women within the healthy weight range and with mild high blood pressure ate a 100g chocolate bar once a day for two weeks. Half the group were given dark chocolate and the other half were given white chocolate. Everyone in the dark chocolate group had a significant drop in blood pressure while the white chocolate group had no change. The reduction is attributed to the presence of plant phenols, which are known to reduce blood pressure. Obviously, this is a very small study, and further research is required.
Other studies have shown that dark chocolate is high in flavanoid anti-oxidants, which prevent the destructive effects of cancer-causing free radicals and fight off excess cholesterol in the body. They may also positively affect some compounds called elcosanoids, which are thought to play a role in cardiovascular health. However, the positive effects of anti-oxidants are lost if a glass of milk is consumed with dark chocolate. The milk proteins bind with the anti-oxidants, rendering them useless.
Dark chocolate may also increase happiness. When dark chocolate is consumed, it triggers the production of endorphins in the body, which create a feeling of happiness. Eating chocolate won’t cure clinical depression, but it might provide a quick hit of happiness.
Many of the flavanoids from the cocoa bean are lost when the cocoa is processed into chocolate. Over the years, however, dark chocolate manufacturers have found better ways of processing cocoa to keep more of the flavanoids in the final product on supermarket shelves now that the health benefits are more widely known. So, dark chocolate in moderation is even better for you now than it’s ever been.