Cocoa is thought to have first been used by the Maya civilization of Central America. It was introduced to Europe by Spanish conquerors in the 16th century and quickly became popular as a health-promoting medicine.
Today, cocoa is most famous for its role in chocolate production. However, modern research has revealed that it does indeed contain important compounds that can benefit your health if consumed in its pure form. Benefits include:
1. Protection from Disease-Causing Free Radicals
One of the best benefits of dark chocolate is its ability to fight free radicals. Free radicals are harmful compounds created by cellular processes in the body that can contribute to inflammation and chronic disease.
Antioxidants are the compounds that are believed to neutralize free radicals and protect the body from damage and disease.
Dark chocolate is loaded with antioxidants, including flavonoids and polyphenols. The cocoa, in particular, has actually been shown to have a high content of polyphenols and flavonoids that is even greater than wine and tea.
Therefore, the higher the cacao/cocoa percentage of your next chocolate bar, the more awesome antioxidants you’ll consume.
2. Potential Cancer Prevention
It may be hard to believe, but that tasty chocolate you eat and love may also help you ward off cancer. That’s right — one of the benefits of dark chocolate is its potential as a cancer-fighting food.
Research shows that the flavonoids and antioxidants found in chocolate may be especially beneficial against colon cancer. For instance, one animal model found dark chocolate was able to effectively reduce the growth and spread of colon cancer cells in rats.
Another review noted that it could potentially help protect against colorectal cancer due to its ability to decrease oxidative stress, reduce inflammation and block the growth of cancer cells.
3. Improved Heart Health
Flavanols are the main type of flavonoid found in chocolate. According to Cleveland Clinic, research has shown that flavanols have a very positive effect on heart health by reducing blood pressure and improving blood flow to the heart as well as the brain.
These flavanols can also help prevent blood platelets from clotting, which could reduce the risk of stroke.
A study published in International Journal of Cardiology had subjects consume either a daily dose of flavonoid-rich dark chocolate or non-flavonoid white chocolate for two weeks. The results showed that flavonoid-rich chocolate intake significantly improved circulation in adults whereas the white chocolate had no positive impact on health.
Another study published in 2015 followed the health of over 20,000 people for 11 years and concluded that higher chocolate intake was associated with a lower risk of heart problems. In fact, among subjects who consumed the most chocolate, 12 percent developed or died of cardiovascular disease during the study compared to 17.4 percent of those who didn’t eat chocolate.
4. Good for Overall Cholesterol Profile
A 2009 study published in Southern Medical Journal looked at the effects of chocolate on 28 healthy subjects and found that just one week of dark chocolate consumption improved lipid profiles, decreased platelet reactivity and reduced inflammation.
Another review of 10 studies showed that consuming flavonol-rich chocolate was effective at reducing levels of total and bad LDL cholesterol, both of which are major risk factors for heart disease.
5. Better Cognitive Function
Some research suggests that flavonol-rich dark chocolate could increase blood flow to the brain, which could potentially aid in the treatment of cognitive conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s.
Not only that, but a 2009 study published in the Journal of Nutrition noted that consumption of flavonoid-rich foods — such as chocolate, wine and tea — was linked to better brain function and improved cognitive performance.
6. Improves Blood Pressure
Several studies show that adding chocolate to your diet can reduce blood pressure levels, which could help protect against conditions like heart disease and stroke.
For example, in one 2015 study, consuming 25 grams of dark chocolate was effective at lowering blood pressure in those with type 2 diabetes and hypertension. Not only that, but it was also able to significantly decrease fasting blood sugar levels as well compared to a control group.
7. Antioxidant-Rich Superfood
In a study published in Chemistry Central Journal, the total flavanol and polyphenol content as well as antioxidant activity content of chocolate and cocoa powder were compared to super fruits like acai, cranberry, blueberry and pomegranate.
So what did the study show? The researchers found that the flavanol content of cocoa powder (30.1 milligrams per gram) was significantly greater than all of the other super fruit powders.
It was also revealed that the antioxidant capacity of dark chocolate was higher than all of the super fruit juices, except pomegranate. Plus, the total polyphenol content per serving was also highest for chocolate (about 1,000 milligrams per serving), which was significantly higher than all of the fruit juices except pomegranate juice.
8. Potential Vision Booster
Although more research is needed, one June 2018 human clinical trial observed that contrast sensitivity and visual acuity of 30 participants improved after consuming dark chocolate versus milk chocolate, meaning that it could potentially help boost vision. However, more studies are needed to evaluate how chocolate and its components could impact vision long term.
9. Protects Skin Health
One of the top dark chocolate benefits for skin is attributed to its flavonol content and its ability to protect against sun damage. In fact, a study out of London found that eating flavonol-rich chocolate could help prevent damage caused by ultraviolet light.
Meanwhile, other research indicates that regular consumption of chocolate may also reduce skin roughness, enhance hydration and improve blood flow to the skin.