Though we were warned against eating it in the past, chocolate’s reputation is now improving. Of course, we don’t mean all types of chocolate; candy bars that contain chocolate would likely harm your health more than improve it. No, we’re talking about dark chocolate. Alongside things like red wine and berries, many have touted the benefits of dark chocolate. But just how good is dark chocolate for you? Do the benefits of dark chocolate outweigh the potential drawbacks?
Below, we’ll explore some of the best reasons as to why you should be picking up a piece of dark chocolate, and why you might want to incorporate it into your diet for the long run.
What Constitutes as Dark Chocolate?
Though dark chocolate has only been seen as a diet darling in the past decade or so, dark chocolate has been a beloved food since as far back as 2,000 B.C. The Mayans were the first to take advantage of the cacao bean, and they drank it as a fermented beverage as opposed to consuming it as a dessert in bar form.
Of course, not all chocolate is made the same. Dark chocolate can only be called as such if it contains between 50 and 90 percent cocoa solids, cocoa butter, and sugar. It should not contain any traces of milk substances. We’ll discuss this later on, but the less sugar your dark chocolate has, the fewer health drawbacks it likely has. The chocolate flavour is strong and generally more bitter in dark chocolate, and when consumed in small portions, it is considered to be a healthy snack.
Milk chocolate contains far less cocoa solids (totalling to around 10 to 50 percent), and will always contain milk in some form. White chocolate lacks cocoa solids completely, and is only made of cocoa butter, sugar, and milk.
What Are the Benefits of Dark Chocolate?
The benefits of dark chocolate, as it turns out, are many. Because of this, dark chocolate has increased in popularity over the past few decades. High-quality dark chocolate that’s low in sugar is the stuff you want when it comes to taking advantage of its benefits. Below are some of the most common benefits of dark chocolate.
Dark Chocolate is Loaded with Antioxidants
One of the biggest benefits of dark chocolate is that it’s packed with antioxidants. Free radicals—which are molecules that cause chain reactions in your body due to its reactivity, and when there are too many, can lead to such diseases as cancer—have been shown to be disarmed by the antioxidant activity in dark chocolate. You’ve likely heard of the benefits of consuming blueberries and acai berries, but one study showed that dark chocolate had more antioxidant activity and other properties that help protect against cancers than in fruits that were also tested.
Dark Chocolate is Packed With Other Nutrients
Aside from high levels of antioxidant activity, dark chocolate also contains other nutrients that are needed for your body to function optimally. In a 100-gram bar of dark chocolate that has 70 to 85 percent cocoa, you can find 11 grams of fibre, 67 percent of your daily requirement for iron, 58 percent for magnesium, 89 percent for copper, and 98 percent for manganese.
As you may know, not all fats are equal. The fatty acids present in dark chocolate include oleic acid (a fat that assists with heart health) and stearic acid (helps to neutralize cholesterol).
Dark Chocolate Has Shown to Lower HDL
LDL, or low-density lipoprotein, is known to be the “bad” type of cholesterol. When LDL cholesterol is oxidized, that means the LDL cholesterol has reacted with free radicals. Studies have shown that dark chocolate helped to decrease oxidized LDL cholesterol, and also actually increased HDL (high-density lipoprotein, or the “good” cholesterol).
Dark Chocolate May Protect You From Heart Disease
Another important benefit of dark chocolate is its ability to protect you from heart disease. Because dark chocolate can help lower LDL cholesterol levels—meaning there’s less of it in your arteries—it can ultimately lower one’s risk of heart disease. Studies have shown that consuming dark chocolate can help stave off heart disease by as much as 57 percent, though correlation between lowered risk of heart disease and dark chocolate consumption still needs to be studied further.
Other research has determined that it’s the flavonoids present in dark chocolate that help maintain heart health. Through producing nitric oxide, your blood vessels can relax, lowering your blood pressure.
Dark chocolate also contains anti-inflammatory properties, as well as antithrombotic (which can help prevent blood clots) and antihypertensive ones (which can help lower blood pressure).
Dark Chocolate May Improve Brain Function
Who knew that dark chocolate could help your brain, too? Studies have shown that high flavanol cocoa can help to improve blood flow to the brain, and also help to improve cognitive function in older adults. One study showed that even a small amount of 80 percent cacao organic chocolate actually increased neuroplasticity (your brain’s ability to create new synaptic connections), potentially having positive effects on memory, cognition, and mood.
Because chocolate stimulates neural activity in areas of the brain that are associated with pleasure and reward, this, in turn, helps to decrease stress and improve mood.
Of course, though these studies show correlation between brain function and dark chocolate, further studies must be done to prove causation.
Dark Chocolate Has Helped With Weight Loss in Some
In some studies, dark chocolate has shown to behave like a prebiotic, the fibre that helps to encourage growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. These “good” microbes help your body to better absorb nutrients and support a healthy metabolism, which is key for weight loss.
What Are Some Ways I Can Use Dark Chocolate?
Though dessert is the most common place in which dark chocolate is used, dark chocolate can be used in savoury dishes, too. It’s much more versatile than you might think! Here are some of our favourite applications of the superfood. Don’t worry: we made sure to include some desserts, too!
5-Ingredient Vegan Dark Chocolate Bars
From Minimalist Baker
Of course, we must start with the basics. If you’re in search of some good vegan dark chocolate, why not make your own and reap the benefits of it? Minimalist Baker’s recipe for vegan dark chocolate bars (a bit of an oxymoron, really, since dark chocolate should not have any milk products) contains only five recipes and is easy to follow.
Bean, Pumpkin and Chestnut Chilli
From Handmade by Fleur
We know, we know—it sounds crazy to combine beans, pumpkin, chestnuts, and chocolate. But trust us when we say that the dark chocolate here helps to amp up all the other flavours for a well-rounded, delicious dish.
Roasted Butternut Squash & Black Bean Mole
From Laura Scott
Authentic mole utilizes dark chocolate, and this recipe by Laura Scott substitutes the traditional choice of chicken with butternut squash, roasted for optimal flavour. Rich and satisfying, no one will be missing the chicken!
Pepper Dip with Almonds and Chocolate
From As Strong As Soup
Yup, dark chocolate is good in savoury appetizers, too. This pepper dip with almonds and chocolate is simple but packs a punch, utilizing an array of spices, but without losing the distinct bitter notes of dark chocolate.
Healthy Vegan Gluten-Free Mug Cake
From Veggies Don’t Bite
Sometimes you just need a guilt-free dessert that’s quick and easy. This mug cake from Veggies Don’t Bite takes only minutes to make, and in addition to being gluten-free, it features an incredibly surprising ingredient that you’d never consider adding to a mug cake recipe—but will now.
Vegan Mayan Drinking Chocolate
From Minimalist Baker
Take advantage of the flavour and benefits of dark chocolate as it was originally intended: as a bitter but delectable drink. Creamy, satisfying, and perfectly spiced, this recipe from Minimalist Baker will have you substituting your normal vegan hot chocolate with this vegan Mayan drinking chocolate.
Where Can I Get High-Quality Dark Chocolate?
Lucky for Vancouverites, there are a number of places to pick up high-quality dark chocolate. At almost all grocery stores—like Superstore, Save-On-Foods, Safeway, Whole Foods, No Frills, and Buy Low—you should be able to find dark chocolate that features a high percentage of cacao solids.
Many common brands of chocolate, like Hersheys and Nestle, now offer dark chocolate that’s coincidentally vegan. Purdy’s Chocolatier also carries high-quality dark chocolate bars and treats.
If you’re looking for higher end options, Zimt, Zazubeans, Living Lotus, and Koko Monk are great local companies that you can support while also satisfying your sweet tooth.
A Final Note
As with anything else, all foods should be consumed in moderation. Another thing to keep in mind is that though there are studies that outline the many benefits of dark chocolate, every person’s body is different, and will respond to things differently. This means that it is not guaranteed that you will reap all the benefits of dark chocolate, and such benefits should always be taken with a grain of salt and not be seen as a prescription.
When dark chocolate is consumed in moderation, there’s no real harm to incorporating it into your diet. Of course, one awesome bonus is that properly produced, high-quality dark chocolate is vegan!
What do you use dark chocolate for? What’s your favourite brand? Let us know in the comments below!