In our previous article, “Top 10 health reasons to eat dark chocolate,” we covered all the possible health benefits of cacao and chocolate. We mentioned many reported claims that we will search for the evidence and report our findings to you. In today’s article, we will focus on the evidence that exists between dark chocolate and its antioxidant effects. Is dark chocolate healthy? Does it have antioxidant effects that prevent cell damage? You will learn: That there is evidence that dark chocolate is healthy because it has antioxidants; How much dark chocolate is needed to receive these health benefits; and what are these antioxidants benefits of dark chocolate.
First of all, what are antioxidants and what do they have to do with dark chocolate? Well, antioxidants are chemicals that prevent or fight oxidation which is a chemical reaction that occurs in our body, and at the end, it produces cell damage. Cacao and dark chocolate are rich in antioxidants, mainly polyphenols, that can fight such oxidation and harm.
When searching in combination the words "antioxidants" and "chocolate" in the U.S. National Library of Medicine, we found fourteen (14) articles; which means that there is a link between dark chocolate and antioxidants. Also, there are more than two hundred (200) articles combining "antioxidants" and "cacao," so the connection is even stronger with the main ingredient of dark chocolate. This simple fact tells us that there is a lot of information published in regards to the antioxidant effects of cacao and this has possibly translated into the statement "chocolate is an antioxidant," especially dark chocolate. Also, most of these articles come from reputable scientific journals and are recent, most of them published after 2015.
Now, how much dark chocolate is needed to prevent cell-damage? The studies reviewed reported amounts that go from forty (40) grams to one hundred (100) grams of dark chocolate or dark chocolate-containing product, like ice cream. In one article the dose used was one (1) gram of dark chocolate per kilogram of weight. These amounts were given to study participants as a one-time dose, or on a daily basis during the study period (few days to few weeks). In these studies, they made the comparison with food items that contained fewer antioxidants, like milk chocolate, where the cacao content was much less than in dark chocolate. Most studies also measured the number of polyphenols in the dark chocolate, the levels of antioxidants in it, or the lowering of chemicals that promote inflammation in the human body before and after dark chocolate ingestion. These studies showed that there is high polyphenol content in the chocolate used, as well as beneficial antioxidant levels from dark chocolate, in the blood of the participants after eating it; also, they showed low inflammation markers in the subjects as a result of dark chocolate ingestion.
The health benefits of dark chocolate in these studies are broad. First, it improves the ability of our red blood cells (blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body) to change their shape, characteristic that can help get oxygen efficiently when and where is needed; and this effect was seen just 2 hours after eating dark chocolate. Then, dark chocolate improves oxidative stress, which is a decrease in the ability of our bodies to deal with free radicals which damage cells, i.e., more oxidative stress is bad for our bodies. In other words, dark chocolate decreases oxidative stress and decreases cell damage; this also happened 2 hours after eating an ice cream rich in cacao. Third, in a study with teenage soccer players, dark chocolate showed a decrease in muscle damage and increased physical performance; unfortunately, this article does not mention the amount of dark chocolate needed to achieve these benefits. Fourth, in HIV-infected patients, the consumption of 65 grams of dark chocolate daily for two weeks increased the beneficial cholesterol called HDL, which it’s thought to “clean” the blood vessels and improve circulation. Lastly, a benefit was seen in patients with fatty liver if they ate 40 grams of dark chocolate (85% cacao) daily for 15 days; this lead to a decreased in liver damage indicators (blood tests) when compared to the same amount of milk chocolate (35% cacao).
We found other exciting information while reading through all these articles, for instance:
- Solid foods, with antioxidants, like dark chocolate bars, preserve their polyphenol content after digestion better than liquids, which contain antioxidants, e.g., wine.
- The less processed the chocolate, the more quantity of antioxidants it has; so look for more artisanal chocolate bars where roasting, the step in chocolate-making that has the most impact in polyphenol content, is done gently and controlled looking to enhance flavors.
- If you are a chocolate lover and are pregnant, please discuss with your doctor the effects of anti-inflammatory (food items with antioxidants could have a significant anti-inflammatory effect) substances and the pregnancy.
- The studies reviewed by us here were free of financial conflicts, mostly from academic institutions, and from all around the world. So they are more likely to be unbiased and closer to the truth.
In summary, we believe current data supports that dark chocolate and cacao prevent cell damage. The daily amount to receive this benefit is around 40-65 grams of dark chocolate (the higher the percentage, the better, e.g., 70% or higher), and the expected gains from eating healthy chocolates are improving circulation and oxygenation, decrease inflammation, increase in HDL-cholesterol which is beneficial for blood vessels, and strengthen liver cell healing.
So, is dark chocolate healthy?... YES. Get your benefit by trying unique chocolate bars in our catalog.
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