Chocolate began as a savoury drink in the South Americas, pre-Columbus era. It was only when the Spanish conquerors invaded, stole their precious cocoa, and added cane sugar, did the birth of 'hot chocolate' come about.
The first solid chocolate candy wasn't developed until much later in England, in the latter 17th century. This was what we now call dark chocolate, as milk chocolate didn't exist until almost 200 years later.
1. Prevent cancer
Cocoa contains flavanols. This is the big difference between milk and dark chocolate. Milk chocolate undergoes a lot more processing, as well as the addition of milk to the cocoa, both of which neutralise the beneficial flavonols.
Flavonols are antioxidants. What do these antioxidants do? Well the body produces free radicals when oxidation occurs during cell metabolism. Free radicals can be harmful to our cell structures, potentially leading to cell mutation and developing cancer.
Antioxidants help neutralise these free radicals, how nice of them, right?
However certain lifestyle factors, such as smoking, poor diet, exposure to high levels of radiation, can increase the amount of free radicals in the body.
So eating a couple blocks of dark chocolate a day won't negate all that other bad stuff.
2. Lower blood pressure
This effect is also due to flavanols. There's very good evidence for this benefit. They stimulate nitric oxide production, a compound which dilates the blood vessels and hence reduces blood pressure.
3. Lower blood sugar
A fairly recent study done, shows a new benefit to eating dark chocolate, it lowers blood sugar, which can be a huge benefit for diabetics. In some diabetics, insulin doesn't work as well and chocolate is theorised to increase insulin sensitivity in the body.
Another theory is that chocolate increases the excretion of cortisol in the body. Cortisol is a hormone that can increase the level of glucose in the blood. Less cortisol, less glucose.
4. Decreases stress
Cortisol is also attributed to causing increased levels of stress. So again, less cortisol, less stress.
5. Improves cholesterol
Moderate consumption of dark chocolate has also been shown to increase good cholesterol (HDLs) and as a result decrease bad cholesterol (LDL).
I say moderate because dark chocolate is still high in fats, so overconsumption negates the cholesterol lowering effect.
For those who don't know, high levels of bad cholesterol can lead to build up of plaque in your arteries, these plaques can in a number of ways restrict blood flow to the heart, brain or any other organ leading to heart disease, stroke, kidney disease among a few.
6. Weight loss
Believe it or not, small amounts of dark chocolate daily can assist in weight loss. I'm not saying if you eat chocolate everyday, and don't control the rest of your diet you'll lose weight, keep that in mind.
Dark chocolate helps with satiety, meaning it promotes a feeling of fullness and satisfies appetite.
So a tip for those who have problems with meal portions, a block of dark chocolate before meals will keep you feeling fuller for longer, with smaller portions.
7. Feel good food
The reason you get a high after you eat chocolate, isn't because of the taste alone but also because it stimulates the brain to release endorphins, also known as 'feel good hormones' , and dark chocolate does it more than the rest.
It also contains a compound called anandamide, which is very similar to another compound u may have heard of, THC. However the effects of anandamide are much milder than those of THC and I'm pretty sure even if it wasn't, nobody's going to make chocolate illegal.
A social experiment in the UK, gave away free chocolate outside a bar, one that was infamous for bar fights. It was found that the number of bar fights was significantly less when chocolate was shared vs. no chocolate. Maybe chocolate IS illegal in North Korea!
8. Cough suppressant
Researchers in the UK have found that a compound present in chocolate, theobromine, is more effective at cough suppression than codeine. This is quite beneficial as theobromine has no adverse effects on the nervous system. A bar of dark chocolate a day, will keep that cough at bay. Click here if you want more on this.
I think I've covered the bare essentials for whose who wish to ease their guilt when it comes to dark chocolate.
For more extensive information on dark chocolate, click here.
Just one last thing to mention, the healthy part of the dark chocolate, the flavonols, is what gives cocoa its bitter taste, so just remember, next time you're making a chocolate selection, 'bitter is better'.