A Sweet Deal: 5 Health Benefits of Chocolate
Blog post by Luka Pajkovic
Chocolate is the world’s most popular sweet, it helps us celebrate holidays, commemorate special events, and treat ourselves when we deserve it, and sometimes when we don’t. But for all its fanfare, chocolate has something of a bad reputation as far health concerns go. Long associated with high sugar-content, acne, and weight-gain, chocolate has become a once-in-a-while guilty-pleasure for many.
Chocolate, and the cacao beans it comes from, have been eaten and enjoyed for thousands of years, and research has revealed that chocolate has multiple health benefits, ranging from supporting skin and heart health to improved brain function and disease prevention.
How’s that for some good news?
Nomad’s totally normal and reasonable obsession with chocolate has led us to explore all the many health benefits that chocolate has to offer, so keep reading to find out how chocolate is actually the tastiest health food you’ll ever eat!
A simple truth about chocolate is that it’s highly nutritious; if you’re eating the right chocolate, that is. Much of chocolate’s negative press comes from highly processed milk and white chocolate, which has had milk, sugar, and other additives introduced to the process of turning cacao bean into chocolate bar.
Dark chocolate, on the other hand, being minimally processed, retains all of its highly nutritious parts and skips on all the added fats and sugars. This makes it not only healthier than other chocolates, but healthier than a lot of other foods too!
Dark chocolate, with a cacao content of over 70%, is an impressive source of some vital nutrients and minerals. One 100-gram bar contains 11 grams of fiber, and over half the daily recommended amounts of iron and magnesium. It also contains plenty of potassium, phosphorous, zinc, and selenium; plus, nearly a full day’s worth of copper and manganese.
Without getting too far into the chemistry, minerals like these are essential for maintaining your body’s functions, from bones to brain; and they even play a part in the creation of our body’s hormones and enzymes.
The fats that dark chocolate does contain also happen to be the right kinds of fats, namely monounsaturated fats, which lower the risk of multiple diseases. Add this to dark chocolate’s low sugar content and you have a recipe for health, happiness, and an excuse to eat more delicious chocolate, like our Ecuador 72% Dark!
2. Cardiovascular Health
Here at Nomad, chocolate is something of a shortcut to happiness: warm and fuzzies come baked into every bar. But who would have guessed that chocolate makes your heart just as happy as your taste buds!
The cardiovascular benefits of chocolate all come from the high dose of flavanols in cacao, which have been shown to positively affect cholesterol, blood pressure, and overall health. The flavanols present in chocolate vary, but generally, the less-processed the chocolate, the higher the flavanol content. For this reason, minimally-processed dark chocolate is your ticket to a healthy heart.
Flavanols stimulate endothelium, which lines our arteries, to produce Nitric Oxide. Nitric Oxide signals our arteries to relax, which reduces resistance to blood flow and lowers blood pressure. This effect has been replicated in multiple studies.
Dark chocolate has also been linked to healthy cholesterol, as it reduces the susceptibility of LDL cholesterol to oxidative damage. LDL cholesterol damaged by oxidation has been linked to arterial damage, plaque buildup, and heart disease.
Chocolate’s ability to lower blood pressure and prevent arterial plaque buildup has made it a heart-friendly treat, and several studies corroborate its powers. One study found that regular cacao consumption actually reduced the risk of death from heart disease by 50% over 15 years.
Chocolate: heal the heart and soul!
3. Skin Health
Chocolate is often viewed as a trigger for a number of skin issues such as acne, breakouts, and premature aging, but this is largely a myth, as it’s actually the high amounts of processed sugar and dairy found in milk chocolate that has been linked to increased sebum production and skin concerns.
Dark chocolate, on the other hand, has been shown to have multiple skin benefits.
Comparing the label on a bar of dark chocolate, like our Cacao Nibs and Sea Salt bar, with the label on your favourite face cream, you might be surprised by some of the similarities. Packed with Vitamins A, C, and E, alongside minerals like zinc and manganese, dark chocolate has all the best stuff to keep your skin healthy and glowing.
Vitamin A promotes healthy hair follicles, and even provides some protection from sun damage. A lack of Vitamin A can result in itchy, bumpy, and otherwise irritated skin.
Vitamin C is a potent anti-oxidant, which will help prevent oxidative damage to your skin. It also supports the body’s natural collagen production, which acts as support for the skin. Damaged or deteriorating collagen increases the likelihood of deep wrinkles.
Vitamin E is also an anti-oxidant, and works with both Vitamins A and C to prevent sun damage and strengthen cells. Minerals like zinc and manganese help our skin heal, and increase nutrient absorption, which will help bolster the effectiveness of everything that goes on your face.
A natural anti-inflammatory, dark chocolate can also help reduce swelling in the body and skin, reducing the duration and appearance of blemishes and imperfections.
If you ask us, a couple bites of dark chocolate is a welcome addition to any skincare routine!
4. Brain Function
If you thought it couldn’t get better, there is also reason to believe that dark chocolate can improve brain function, so next time someone teases you about your chocolate habit you can tell them it’s actually making you smarter!
Scientists at Harvard Medical School have found that drinking two cups of hot chocolate a day can help keep your brain healthy, and has been linked to preventing memory decline; we recommend our Dominican 55% Dark.
These effects are attributed to dark chocolate’s ability to increase blood flow to the brain in a relationship called neurovascular coupling. Cacao extracts have also been found to reduce or prevent nerve damage found in the neural pathways of those with Alzheimer’s Disease.
The flavanols in cacao, which seem to do wonders for the entire body, also help keep your brain running smoothly. Flavanols help brain cell connections and survival, and they protect brain cells from damaging toxins and inflammation. Research has also shown that a group who ingested a higher amount of cacao flavanols performed better, and made significant improvements, on tests that measured attention, executive function, and memory than the group who ingested less cacao flavanols.
If you’ve got any big assignments coming up, or you’re preparing to pull an all-nighter before an exam, it sounds like some tasty dark chocolate might be the best study partner you could ask for!
5. Stress Relief
We’ve already looked into the stress-relief power of chocolate, but it’s worth saying it one more time: chocolate, especially dark chocolate, can help rescue you from the clutches of stress. Dark chocolate helps reduce the amounts of adrenaline and cortisol in your bloodstream; these are the two major stress hormones that keep us on our toes in dangerous situations – and keep us awake the night before a big presentation.
When left unchecked, recurring moments of stress develop into chronic stress, and cause problems for our bodies ranging from cardiovascular disease, a compromised immune system, depression, and anxiety.
Luckily, dark chocolate provides a way to keep our adrenaline and cortisol under control.
Chocolate also encourages the production of serotonin and dopamine, the feel-good chemicals we’re all chasing. This makes it a combination stress-reliever and mood-enhancer.
It looks like there’s a reason chocolate is the world’s favourite comfort food!
6. Disease Prevention
Dark chocolate is also packed with long-term health benefits; for those of us with chronic cacao cravings, this is particularly good news.
Dark chocolate boosts the amount of ‘friendly’ gut bacteria in our bodies. While this doesn’t sound particularly appetizing, it is actually great news, as diseases such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Asthma, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and some forms of cancer have all been linked to abnormal gut microbiomes. Friendly gut bacteria, introduced through eating dark chocolate, ensures that our gut is in good health and helps prevent illnesses from occurring.
The takeaway: dark chocolate will make your tummy happy in more ways than one.
We’ve already looked at the ways dark chocolate, largely through its high-flavanol content, can help keep the heart healthy; the long-term effects of a healthy heart being reduced risk of stroke and heart disease.
A Canadian study found that those who ate one serving of chocolate a week were 22% less likely to die after a stroke, and those who had 2 ounces per week were 46% less likely. Combine this with cacao’s power to lower blood pressure and help keep arteries clear of plaque, and you’ve got a food that will keep your heart happy well into old age.
Dark chocolate has also been shown to have cancer-preventing characteristics. Research has found that cacao, and the flavanols it contains, help prevent oxidative DNA damage that occurs during cancer. Animal studies have also shown cacao flavanols can prevent or slow down multiple cancers, such as prostate, liver, and colon cancers, as well as leukemia.
On top of helping prevent cancers from forming in the first place, cacao flavanols also sensitize cells to chemotherapy, boosting the effectiveness of the treatment.
Chocolate fights disease, gets your skin glowing, keeps your heart healthy, and even makes your brain work better, surely there’s a limit to the wonders it can work?
It doesn’t seem like it.
We owe a lot of thanks to the flavanols and nutrients that make dark chocolate so healthy, not only do they keep our bodies and brains functioning right, they give us a few bulletproof reasons to indulge in a little deliciousness every day.
To get the greatest health benefits from chocolate, stick to high-quality, minimally processed dark chocolate with a cacao content of at least 70%, this will ensure you get all the good stuff and avoid all the additives like milk and sugar that turn cacao to candy.
Luckily, Nomad Chocolate is here to provide you with all the dark chocolate you could ask for, whether it’s bars or brew, to keep you healthy and happy!