Cocoa is rich in plant chemicals called flavanols that may help to protect the heart. Dark chocolate contains up to 2-3 times more flavanol-rich cocoa solids than milk chocolate. Flavanols have been shown to support the production of nitric oxide (NO) in the endolethium (the inner cell lining of blood vessels) that helps to relax the blood vessels and improve blood flow, thereby lowering blood pressure. [1,2] Flavanols in chocolate can increase insulin sensitivity in short term studies; in the long run this could reduce risk of diabetes. [3,4]
Dementia – Dementia is a complex illness. Physiological, genetic, and nutritional elements may play a role in the development of certain forms of dementia. For example, it appears Alzheimer’s disease may occur due to a buildup of beta-amyloid proteins in the brain, which disrupts normal function. A study published in the Journal of Gerontology found animal models of dementia may develop due to excess sugar consumption. The excess sugar is thought to cause an insulin reaction that might increase deposits of beta-amyloid proteins and increase the risk of developing dementia.
You know saturated fats are bad for your heart, but sugar can also have a damaging effect on your cardiac health. A high intake of added sugars seems to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease mortality. One study that took place over 15 years indicated that people who consume 25 percent or more of calories from sugar were more than twice as likely as those who consumed less than 10 percent of calories from sugar to die from heart disease. Simply eating a high-sugar diet significantly increases your risk of heart problems.
Studies on brain activity have provided evidence supporting the idea that overeating alters our brain’s reward system, which then further drives overeating. This same process is thought to underlie the tolerance associated with addiction. Over time, greater amounts of the substance are required to reach the same level of reward. Studies imply that overeating results in a diminished reward response and a progressively worsening addiction to low-nutrient foods rich in sugar, salt, and fat.
Considering that heart disease is the number one killer and that dark chocolate has been shown to substantially reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, I believe regular chocolate consumption can be a good thing. Always choose above 70-percent cacao and select your brand wisely so as to keep your cadmium, lead, and sugar low while maximizing the antioxidant and flavonol benefits.
The research included information that animal studies have found the hippocampus, which is an area in the brain associated with memory, may be affected by refined sugar. Two studies were conducted in the published report. In the first study, participants that self-reported eating a high-sugar diet had poorer performance on hippocampal related memory tasks. In the second study, the results were replicated. The second study also revealed that the effect of high sugar consumption on memory appears to be directly related to the hippocampal region and no other areas which may also affect memory, such as the prefrontal cortex.
I have always loved dark chocolate, and I actually prefer it over other types of chocolate! Because of that, it makes me really excited to hear that there are some health benefits to eating it! It’s interesting how you point out that dark chocolate has antioxidants that stimulate the lining of the arteries so that blood flow can improve. Blood flow is actually something that many people in my family struggle with. I’ll have to suggest they start eating more dark chocolate! I imagine that giving them dark chocolate would be a great gift and also a way to help them out!
Our results show large variations both between as well as within each food category; all of the food categories contain products almost devoid of antioxidants (Table (Table1).1). Please refer to Additional file 1, the Antioxidant Food Table, for the FRAP results on all 3139 products analyzed. The categories "Spices and herbs", "Herbal/traditional plant medicine" and "Vitamin and dietary supplements" include the most antioxidant rich products analyzed in the study. The categories "Berries and berry products", "Fruit and fruit juices", "Nuts and seeds", "Breakfast Cereals", "Chocolate and sweets", "Beverages" and "Vegetables and vegetable products" include most of the common foods and beverages which have medium to high antioxidant values (Table (Table1).1). We find that plant-based foods are generally higher in antioxidant content than animal-based and mixed food products, with median antioxidant values of 0.88, 0.10 and 0.31 mmol/100 g, respectively (Table (Table1).1). Furthermore, the 75th percentile of plant-based foods is 4.11 mmol/100 g compared to 0.21 and 0.68 mmol/100 g for animal-based and mixed foods, respectively. The high mean value of plant-based foods is due to a minority of products with very high antioxidant values, found among the plant medicines, spices and herbs. In the following, summarized results from the 24 categories are presented.
Various types of chocolate were analyzed, from milk chocolate to dark chocolate and baking cocoa. The variation of antioxidant content in chocolate ranged from 0.23 in white chocolate to 14.98 mmol/100 g in one individual dark chocolate sample. Mean antioxidant contents increased with increasing content of cocoa in the chocolate product (Pearson correlation r = 0.927, p < 0.001). Chocolate products with cocoa contents of 24-30%, 40-65% and 70-99% had mean antioxidant contents of 1.8, 7.2 and 10.9 mmol/100 g, respectively.
Such observational studies don't prove that chocolate is responsible for these benefits. However, the consistent and repeated positive results in studies done on cocoa indicate that chocolate does have a positive effect on the cardiovascular system. Chocolate has had such a profound effect on so many systems in the human body some authorities are unsure whether to call it a food or a drug.
Sugary drinks, candy, baked goods, and sweetened dairy are the main sources of added sugar. But even savory foods, like breads, tomato sauce, and protein bars, can have sugar, making it all too easy to end up with a surplus of the sweet stuff. To complicate it further, added sugars can be hard to spot on nutrition labels since they can be listed under a number of names, such as corn syrup, agave nectar, palm sugar, cane juice, or sucrose. (See more names for sugar on the graphic below.)
Luckily, increasing your daily antioxidant intake is pretty simple; they're found in many of your favorite fruits, nuts, veggies, and even sweets! Wondering where to find the most antioxidants? We combed through a database of more than 3,100 foods, drinks, herbs, and spices (originally compiled and published in Nutrition Journal in 2010) to find the top 10 antioxidant-rich foods (per 100 grams) that you need in your diet.
It’s important to purchase the best dark chocolate you can find. The majority of chocolate on the market is garbage, with very little nutritional value, so always look for the quality stuff with more that 70% cocoa. A lot of places now offer organic dark chocolate, which is even better for you since it reduces that possibilities of eating bad chemicals.