Dark Chocolate – Benefits, Nutritional Value, Side Effects & more

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There is absolutely nothing that a bar of good old chocolate can’t solve. This sweet treat is enjoyed by all, whether you are 5 or 50. Sold in mainly three varieties, white, Milk and Dark, all of which are equally popular among chocolate. However, in this article, we will be exploring the health benefits of Dark Chocolate and how it has become a familiar name in our household. 

Chocolate is derived from the Cacao plant mostly found in West Africa, South America and Australia. It is fascinating that Chocolate has a 4000-year-old history that started with The Olmec (an ancient civilization of Mexico) turning cacao seeds into chocolate. Then it travelled to Spain, Europe and finally was introduced to the rest of the world during the time of the Industrial Revolution. 

Milk Chocolate gained popularity in European countries, accessible only to the elite and the royalty. Consecutively they started experimenting with dark chocolate by adding sugar, milk and honey. However, only the 20th century brought back the reign of Dark Chocolate, promoting its numerous health benefits and nutritional value. 

Nutritional Value Dark Chocolate

100 grams of Dark Chocolate having 70-85% cacao content 

  • Calories: 604
  • Carbohydrates: 46.36 g
  • Dietary fibre: 11.00 g
  • Sugar: 24.23 g
  • Fat: 43.06 g
  • Protein: 7.87 g
  • Iron: 12.02 mg
  • Magnesium: 230.00 mg
  • Zinc: 3.34 mg

Nutritional Facts of Dark Chocolate

It is rich in antioxidants and flavonoids that can reduce inflammation, and protect cells from oxidative damage. Together, these can also prevent the development of cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes and even help in treating Alzheimer’s disease. 

To achieve these health benefits, a person needs to consume dark chocolate that contains at least 70% cacao content. The recommended dose of tis sweet treat should only be limited to 30-40 grams per day.

Eating more than that could mean that one may be consuming too many calories along with a greater intake of caffeine that can cause nausea, racing heartbeat and sleeplessness. 

The Making of Dark Chocolate 

Relish the 7 sweet benefits of Dark Chocolate- HealthifyMe

Chocolate comes from the seeds inside the fruit of the Theobroma Cacao Tree. When harvested, the seeds of the fruit are scooped out and then fermented. They are then spread out to dry in the sun, followed by roasting and grinding them into a coarse powder.

The final product that you consider Chocolate is obtained by making this into liquor (further adding sugar or any sweeteners), grinding it again and pouring it into moulds to be solidified and sold in the market. Traditionally, the entire process is labour intensive, complex and very time-consuming.

The global chocolate market is massive and has reached a value of US$ 137.599 Billion in 2019. It is growing at a CAGR of 4.78% and is expected to reach US$182.090 billion by 2025.

How is Dark Chocolate different from other varieties of chocolates?

The process of producing this chocolate differs slightly from the rest. Though the ingredients used are the same as its other variants, that is, cocoa liquor, milk powder and sugar, the quantities may vary. As in, Dark Chocolate generally comprises a higher percentage of Cocoa content that can range anywhere from 30 to 85%. This is the primary distinction between Dark, Milk and White chocolate making it a bittersweet concoction.

7 Proven Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate

Now, having a sweet tooth can bring your benefits in the form of this bittersweet treat. There has been numerous evidence-based research that proves that Dark Chocolate is very nutritious and can provide health benefits. 

Let’s explore its potential benefits:

1. Chocolate Prevents Cardiovascular Diseases

Cardiovascular Diseases (CVD) are the leading causes of death globally. The most common factors contributing to this disease are high levels of cholesterol and blood pressure. Certain epidemiological evidence suggests that fruits and vegetables are rich in flavonoids and are great to prevent CVD. Similarly, the vast content of flavonoids in cacao has also proven to decrease the risk of CVD. 

The Stockholm Heart Epidemiology Program[1] studied the long term effects of consuming dark chocolate. The study indicates lower cardiac mortality in people who consume dark chocolate than in people who have never eaten it before. Thus postulating flavanols as cardioprotective agents in adequate amounts that prevents the likelihood of developing heart disease. 

2. Chocolate Lowers Blood Pressure

An observational analysis by the Harvard School of Public Study [2]agrees to the link between blood pressure and cacao. It talks about the medicinal profile (flavonoids) present in dark chocolate (50-70% cocoa content) that is effective in lowering blood pressure. 

Flavonoids also help in stimulating endothelium (the thin membrane inside the heart and blood vessels responsible for managing vascular contraction and relaxation) to produce Nitric Oxide. The release of Nitric Oxide expands blood vessels, increases blood flow and thus reduces blood pressure. Therefore, it can be an inexpensive and effective element that regulates blood pressure in people with hypertension. 

3. Chocolate Resists Cell Damage

Dark Chocolate is a rich source of antioxidants. These antioxidants are responsible for preventing free radical configuration tissue damage. Free radicals are molecular species formed by the body that can be called the byproduct of metabolism to pump more blood in stressful situations. However, chronically increasing the levels of free radicals can cause problems. Antioxidants prevent the effect of free radicals and help in defending cell damage. It is also beneficial for treating diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

A critical review[3] indicates that the antioxidants present in this food have anti-inflammatory properties that may prevent or reduce vascular inflammation.   

4. Chocolate Treats Depression  

Other than the pleasure associated with eating it, dark chocolate is also linked to lowering the risk of depression. It is observed that consuming 24 grams or less of Dark Chocolate per day can have antidepressant effects on people. This can relieve one from depression, with its combined presence of flavonoids (known to improve mood), theobromine (delivers energy), N-acylethanolamines (fatty acid that has euphoric effect) and Phenylethylamine (triggers dopamine).

A detailed survey[4] was conducted by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 2007-08 and 2013-14. This analysed the relation between dark chocolate and depression with 13,626 adults residing in the US. The study concluded that the consumption of dark chocolate may be directly associated with the reduced odds of clinically relevant depressive symptoms.

5. Chocolate Works against Diabetes

Dark chocolate contains polyphenols, which is a naturally occurring compound having antioxidant properties that improve insulin resistance. This, in turn, may help in controlling blood sugar in people having Type 2 diabetes. 

Moreover, a study published in the Appetite[5] journal reveals that the participants who occasionally consumed dark chocolate were severely prone to the risk of developing diabetes in the next five years, as compared to participants who consumed dark chocolate at least once per week. 

6. Chocolate Shields the Skin from Sun Damage

It not only releases happy hormones in the body but also makes your skin happy. Dark chocolate is loaded with tons of nutrients and minerals like calcium, iron, copper, magnesium, selenium,  manganese, zinc and vitamins A, B1, C, D, and E. 

These along with antioxidants protect your skin from UV rays, soothe blemishes and redness, increase collagen production, etc. Along with this, it has anti-inflammatory properties that relieve irritated skin. 

7. Chocolate Aids Weight Loss

Eating dark chocolate in moderate amounts can help in the weight loss process[6]. It has monounsaturated fatty acids that improve metabolism and rapidly burn calories. Also, dark chocolate curbs cravings if eaten 20 minutes before a meal. 

Interestingly, the magnesium and antioxidants in dark chocolate relieve pain and thus encourage one to workout. This can be an added advantage for people struggling to lose weight. 

Side Effects of Dark Chocolate

A 1-ounce serving of dark chocolate with 70% cocoa provides about 20-25 mg of caffeine. Excessive consumption of dark chocolate can increase caffeine levels in blood, causing increased heart rate, nausea, dehydration and insomnia. Approximately 30-60 grams of dark chocolate per day is recommended quantity to be healthy. Also, people having diabetes can consult their doctor before planning to consume daily. 

Precautions

  • Pregnancy- Dark chocolate can be consumed in moderation. Eating an excessive amount of dark chocolate can increase caffeine intake which can be unsafe for the foetus. Higher caffeine content can cause various issues like premature delivery, low birth weight and even lead to miscarriage. It is better to watch the quantity of your consumption. Consult a doctor and abide by the suggested quantity. 
  • Breastfeeding- Mothers breastfeeding infants must be careful about their Dark Chocolate consumption. The caffeine in dark chocolate can transfer from the mother to the nursing baby and cause insomnia, restlessness and even rashes. 
  • Bleeding Disorders- Consuming a lot of dark chocolate can also lead to the risk of slowing down the blood clotting process. It can be dangerous for people who have bleeding disorders or haemophilia. 
  • Palpitation- The cocoa present in Dark Chocolate can increase pulse rate and spike blood pressure if consumed in a rather large quantity

Healthy Dark Chocolate Recipes

Dark chocolate is a versatile element that pairs well and tastes delicious in both sweet and savoury foods. Here are two hearty and healthy recipes featuring Dark Chocolate. 

1. Dark Chocolate and Oatmeal pops

Ingredients: 

  • ¾ cup Rolled Oats
  • ¼ cup Dark Chocolate Chips
  • 2 tbsp Peanut Butter
  • 2 tbsp Low-fat Milk

Method: 

  1. Heat the Peanut Butter, Milk, and Dark Chocolate Chips in a saucepan over low heat.
  2. Let the Chips melt and then remove the saucepan from the heat. 
  3. Next, Add the Rolled Oats into the mixture
  4. Scoop out some of the mixture with a spoon and place dollops of those into a baking sheet. 
  5. Place the sheet into the fridge and let it rest for 10 mins.
  6. Your Dark Chocolate and Oatmeal pops are ready

2. Healthy Hot Chocolate 

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon pure honey or maple syrup
  • small pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon chopped dark chocolate or chocolate chips
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Method 

In a small saucepan, heat the milk until just simmering. Whisk in the cocoa powder, maple syrup, and salt. Add the dark chocolate chips and vanilla extract. Next, wait till the dark chocolate is completely melted and fully combined into the mixture. Serve hot.

Summary

There is considerable evidence that points to the fact that Dark Chocolate has potential health benefits. However, that doesn’t mean you should exceed the recommended consumption quantity. It is a ton of nutrients but only be beneficial if consumed in moderation. You can enjoy this delicious treat and reap the benefits simultaneously. 

Chocolate – Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. Is Dark Chocolate Healthy?

Yes, Dark Chocolate has tons of nutrients like iron, calcium, zinc, magnesium, Copper, Vitamin A, B1, C, D and K. These nutrients are great for heart health, regulate blood pressure, aid weight loss etc. 

2. Which Dark Chocolate is best for you?

Dark Chocolate also has varieties like bittersweet or semi-sweet. However choosing a Dark Chocolate that has a higher percentage of cocoa, ideally 70% and above is best in terms of nutritional content. 

3. Is it Ok to have dark chocolate every day?

Yes, you can have Dark Chocolate every day, if consumed in moderation. You can consume up to 20-30 grams of Dark Chocolate without worrying about any side effects. 

4. What percentage of Dark Chocolate is healthy?

Choosing a Dark Chocolate with a high cocoa content of 70% and above is considered healthy as compared to the others. 

5. Can Dark Chocolate reduce weight?

Research suggests that the monounsaturated fatty acids present in Dark Chocolate improve metabolism and help you burn calories. So, yes, Dark Chocolate can aid in weight loss. 

6. Is Dark Chocolate Bad for Hypertension?

No, research studies suggest that flavonoids present in dark chocolate are known to regulate blood pressure in people with Hypertension. 

7.  What are the benefits of having dark chocolate?

Dark Chocolate can help in maintaining heart health, losing weight, regulating blood pressure, treating depression, preventing skin damage etc. 

8. What are the disadvantages of dark chocolate?

There are a few side effects of consuming excess Dark Chocolate. It can increase heart rate, cause anxiety and irritability, nervousness, and even dehydration. 

9. What dark chocolate is healthiest? 

Any Dark Chocolate having 70% and above of cacao content is considered healthy. 

10. How much dark chocolate can you have in a day?

20-30 grams or 2-3 blocks of Dark Chocolate per day is known to be a safe quantity that can be consumed by people. 

11. What is the best time to eat dark chocolate? 

You can eat Dark Chocolate at any time of the day. However, if your goal is to lose weight, have a piece of dark chocolate 30 minutes before your meal or as a midday snack. 

12. Is it bad to eat dark chocolate?

No, if consumed in moderation, dark chocolate contains tons of nutrients and it provides various health benefits. 

13. How much dark chocolate can I eat on a diet?

If you are on a strict diet you can eat up to 28 grams of dark chocolate each day. 

14. Can I eat 100g of dark chocolate a day?

100 grams of dark chocolate a day is a fairly large amount that will have 604 calories and can be exceptionally unhealthy. 

15. Why is dark chocolate higher in calories?

About 65% of the calories in dark chocolate are from fats and hence higher in calories.

16. Is dark chocolate lower in calories? 

No, Dark Chocolate is rich in calories. Every 100 gram of Dark chocolate has 604 calories. 

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References

  1. ^ The Stockholm Heart Epidemiology Program (www.researchgate.net)
  2. ^ Harvard School of Public Study (www.hsph.harvard.edu)
  3. ^ critical review (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  4. ^ survey (www.researchgate.net)
  5. ^ Appetite (pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  6. ^ weight loss process (www.healthifyme.com)

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