Is dark chocolate good for you, or is it rather bad for your health? Especially if you are a senior? A healthy nutrition is the base of a good overall health and a successful, healthy aging. It should provide all the good nutrients needed for aging bodies to maintain their functionality and avoid bad ones, harming the body. Appreciating this need, can such a dense, sweet, fatty treat still be healthy and good for you? Let’s see what scientists have found out so far about dark chocolate and health.
Numerous studies have demonstrated that cocoa flavanols help support blood vessel health and healthy circulation. That’s already good news for your heart and your overall health. The circulatory system is the delivery pathway for vital oxygen and nutrients to organs and tissues.
It seems flavonoids found in chocolate can lower blood pressure level, by widening and relaxing the blood vessels, decreasing so the resistance which results in lower blood pressure. The findings of a 2017 review showed that the beneficial effects of dark chocolate on blood pressure might be even more significant in older people and those with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, as opposed to younger, healthy individuals.
NHS however, says it is difficult to confirm whether a small difference of 2-3mmHG would have a significant effect on reducing risk of heart disease and heart attack.
Opponents say flavonoids are capable also of increasing levels of good cholesterol (HDL) and preventing the oxidation of bad (LDL) cholesterol in blood, which helps to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attack.
Iron in chocolate will be also useful against high blood pressure and anemia. The copper and potassium found in dark chocolate will also be of help in preventing stroke or cardiovascular diseases.
Preventing Cognitive Abilities Loss
(Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other Dementia)
Free radicals (single atoms of split oxygen molecules with an unpaired, or free electron) tend to look in body for some new electrons they can pair with, leaving so another molecule destabilized, with an unpaired electron. This one will do the same with another one and so on in a chain process, like dominoes. This whole process is called oxidative stress.
It might leave the cells damaged, with broken membranes or mutations… They are believed to have a huge impact on development of many common diseases, like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, atherosclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease…
An article published in 2000, evaluating previous studies done with wine, which contains flavonoids (and flavonols, which are a class of flavonoids) same as chocolate, concluded that oxidative stress may play a key role in dementia and that “the intake of antioxidant flavonoids is inversely related to the risk of incident dementia”.
A double-blind study in 90 elderly individuals with mild cognitive impairment provided evidence that dark chocolate may improve brain function, brain processing speed, working memory, speech fluency.
Even when diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, short-time brain boost is possible with dark chocolate. i.e. their compounds theobromine and caffeine.
Anyway, dark chocolate will enhance brain function at all ages (remember having a chocolate brain-boost while preparing for a difficult exam during studies?)
Apparently, having a bite of chocolate is, from a chemical point of view, same as falling in love, as in both the same, phenylethylamine chemical is present. It will cause endorphins release, which is pure happiness. No wonder both can be so addictive.
Slow Down Aging of the Body
Free radicals naturally appear in body, as part of the process of food break down, mostly with fried foods, alcohol, for example, or breathing, especially if smoking, or skin exposure to sun.
Antioxidants, if we consume enough food which contains it, can and do fight these free radicals decreasing their number in body, helping so decreasing also the damage done by them.
Aging has also been often defined as a gradual accumulation of free-radical damage.
Dark chocolate is packed with flavonoids, which are one of the best sources of antioxidants, better even than cranberries or acai berries, so no wonder dark chocolate is believed to help in prevention of these common diseases and are effective against premature aging.
As we mentioned, dark chocolate, i.e. antioxidant properties in flavonoids can prevent oxidation and inflammation, damages caused by them. These damages can lead to diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is caused by abnormally high levels of glucose in blood. These high levels occur as a result of the cells that stop responding to insulin hormone, which is produced by pancreas. This is called insulin resistance.
Dark chocolate is again a good servant, as the antioxidants in it are helping the body use its insulin more efficiently to help naturally control and lower blood sugar levels.
Enhancing insulin secretion, improving insulin sensitivity and achieving so reduced insulin resistance is a significant plus in preventing type 2 diabetes. Rich magnesium content in chocolate will also be helpful.
Long term high blood sugar, if not treated, will slowly damage blood vessels, which can lead to more issues, like kidney function decrease, eyesight loss, heart disease and even stroke.
Inflammation is a natural response of the immune system to germs and other harmful substances. If this becomes a chronic occurrence, it can increase the risk of developing arthritis, some cancers and diabetes, as the cells and tissues are damaged by constant inflammation.
Dark chocolate may help to prevent or reducing inflammation, as it contains compounds with anti-inflammatory properties.
“Strong experimental evidence confirms that HDL directly alleviates atherosclerosis. Flavonoids show the potential to improve HDL function through their well-documented effects on cellular antioxidant status and inflammation”-a 2017 article, published in US National Library of Medicine. Meaning, thanks to flavonoids and their behavior in the body, good cholesterol (HDL) is significantly increased, which will, among other benefits, prevent formation of plaque, leading so to prevention of arthritis.
The increased blood-flow gives a better blood supply to the skin, as well, providing a healthier look and feel, as well as skin hydration. Natural ability of the body to protect skin against the sun is improved by antioxidant properties of flavonoids, so much that even previous overexposure to sun can be healed. The elderly skin usually thins over time and presents a higher risk of skin cancer, but flavonoids provide a good protection of epithelial cells, which in turn decreases the risk of developing a skin cancer.
Chocolate Skin Therapy
As chocolate has powerful anti-aging properties, due to the ability to fight harmful, wrinkle causing free radicals, it has been discovered by the beauty industry many years ago and have been used in anti-ageing treatments ever since.
It can help you lose weight
Dark chocolate may help improve insulin sensitivity, reduce hunger and appetite, and enhance mood — all of which may help promote weight loss.
On top of it, monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) contained in chocolate will contribute to an improved metabolism, so your body will burn calories faster.
According to The Telegraph, neuroscientist Will Clower says a small square of good chocolate melted on the tongue 20 minutes before a meal triggers the hormones in the brain that say ‘I’m full’, therefore cutting down the amount of food you subsequently eat. Finishing a meal with the same small trigger could reduce subsequent snacking in between meals.
So, as it appears, chocolate, despite its calories, can actually help you lose weight.
Word of Caution
However, no matter how dark is the dark chocolate, if you consume it in excess, it may contribute to weight gain instead.
Also, any chocolate will contain some, at least natural sugar, even the dark-dark one, so only moderate quantities should be consumed, especially by diabetics.
And, do not forget that the amount of flavonoids varies tremendously from product to product. Chocolate also tends to be high in calories, saturated fat, and as mentioned, sugar. So be careful when you choose your healthy snack.
How to Choose Wisely?
Whether you buy it in a grocery store or online, look for a chocolate with as few ingredients as you can find.
-cocoa powder, cocoa butter, chocolate liquor, or cocoa nibs, at least 70%, but the higher percentage, the better. (Once you stop eating the very sugary milk or pseudo-dark varieties with less cocoa and more added sugar, you’ll find the 85, even 90% chocolate to taste very good)
-no added sugar, or the lowest amount of sugar (last position in list is a good sign)
-lecithin (soy lecithin as an emulsifier) some good chocolates do not have it
-milk fat (NOT milk)-basically butter, makes chocolate a bit softer, but can be omitted
-flavorings (oils, spices, aromas)-in very small quantities
-should not contain any hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil, as these are unhealthy trans fats and present a significant risk factor for heart disease.
-alkaline processed chocolate (dutched)-different authors have different opinions on this. They all agree that this process reduces flavonoids, sometimes even by 40-60%, but, according to some, the remaining still makes the chocolate a very good source of this highly valuable compound.
If you consume chocolate for the sake of flavonoids and their impact on your health, you might still consider avoiding such chocolates.
Another Word of Caution
Some of the above mentioned studies, however, after stating the results and conclusions, carefully add that further researches are needed, so you might want to take it all with a pinch of salt.
Still, if you limit your intake to not more than a square or two per day, you should be able to enjoy the benefits for your health. Finally, if you are a chocolate lover, like so many of us, the dark one allows you to enjoy it with less harmful effects than the milk or white one.
Now that we discussed and explained the good and the bad effects of dark chocolate on your health, you can make an informed decision whether to include it in your diet or not. As the benefits seem to outweigh the drawbacks of dark chocolate (not others), a reasonable one or two squares will certainly become my occasional “more healthy than not” treat.
What about you? Do you love chocolate, dark particularly?
What are your thoughts on its benefits or disadvantages? I’d be happy to read about it in comments.
And, as always, feel free to reach out should you have questions and I’ll be happy to answer to the best of my knowledge.
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