You can hardly open a health magazine these days without finding an article touting dark chocolate’s health benefits. Whereas once it mostly existed as a health-food store staple, dark chocolate today resides in drugstores and grocery aisles alongside milk chocolate and all sorts of other candy concoctions.
Dark chocolate’s benefits come from flavonoids, the same compounds you get in red wine, green tea, and cranberries. These antioxidants help your body’s cells resist free-radical damage.
Dark chocolate typically packs less sugar than typically chocolate bars, lending it a bitterness that might take some warming up to if you’re weaning off the high-sugar milk chocolate.
Yes, dark chocolate contains high amounts of fat. But about two-thirds of that fat is actually healthy fats. If you want fast fat loss or want to stay lean and sexy, you obviously shouldn’t devour gigantic dark-chocolate bars, but indulging in an occasional few squares will hardly put you in the red zone.
You also need to find a premium dark chocolate with at least 80% cacao. Those drugstore chocolate bars aren’t going to cut it. Premium dark chocolate obviously costs more than your average chocolate bar, but you’re consuming less and getting far greater health benefits, including:
1. Heart health. Candy manufacturers are on to something with their heart-shaped chocolate. A study in the American Journal of Hypertension showed that dark chocolate benefits endothelial function and protects your cardiovascular system. Flavonoids in dark chocolate also help reduce platelet activation and balance the eicosanoids that may play a role in cardiovascular health.
2. Anti-aging. Nowhere do those damaging free radicals wreak more havoc than on your skin. A study at the European Dermatology London showed eating dark chocolate daily could protect the skin against the sun’s aging effects, including wrinkles, inflammation and skin cancers. You need a dark chocolate with very high levels of flavanols to get this therapeutic effect.
3. Improved insulin and blood pressure. Whereas devouring Cadbury milk chocolate bars can become a surefire path to diabetes, dark chocolate can actually improve blood sugar levels. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that dark chocolate decreases blood pressure and improves insulin sensitivity. Worth noting again: dark chocolate isn’t a more-is-better food, particularly for anyone with blood sugar issues.
4. Benefit your lipid profile. Could dark chocolate offer therapeutic effects similar to statin medications? A meta-analysis in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed dark chocolate can lower both total and LDL cholesterol. Flavonoids in green tea, vegetables, and fruits provide a similar effect without dark chocolate’s calories, so make the occasional dark chocolate an added bonus rather than everyday indulgence to balance your cholesterol.
5. A brighter outlook on life. Ever felt a chocolate high akin to that wonderful post-workout glow? That’s because dark chocolate stimulates endorphin production. Dark chocolate also boosts serotonin, your happy hormone that fosters a good mood. Theobromine, which boosts mental alertness and widens blood vessels for better flow, is also higher in dark than milk chocolate.
Want a decadent dessert that’s rich in antioxidants and fiber? Dark-chocolate dipped strawberries rival your richest sweets without tons of sugar or calories, and make the perfect special-occasion dessert. Heat ½ cup of melted dark chocolate chips and 1-1/2 tablespoons organic cream until just melted. Stir and remove from heat. Individually dunk 12 long-stemmed, medium-sized strawberries in the melted chocolate. Set each aside on waxed or parchment paper to dry. For added crunch, dip each freshly chocolate-coated strawberry in finely chopped almonds.