Dark chocolate has long been thought of as a special treat to be saved for the occasional guilty pleasure or holiday. In this case, however, the indulgent taste is deceiving—dark chocolate containing 80 percent cacao or higher is packed with nutrients that can strengthen your body’s defense systems and positively affect your overall health. It is so outstanding, in fact, that it is on my list of jaw-dropping superfoods in my book, Eat to Beat Disease. Now, even though you may not need more convincing, let us dive into the pleasantly surprising benefits of dark chocolate.
- Dark Chocolate is Heart Healthy
You may have heard this benefit before—and it continues to ring true through vast research today. Epidemiologists have long-established a connection between consuming foods with flavanols—a potent antioxidant found in dark chocolate—and a lower incidence of death from cardiovascular disease.
- This Treat Increases Good Gut Bacteria While Controlling the Bad
Researchers from the University of Reading in the United Kingdom studied specific bacteria affected by chocolate consumption by giving 22 healthy volunteers a beverage containing high-cocoa flavanols for four weeks. They found that this drink strikingly improved the ratio of good to harmful bacteria. There was an increase of beneficial Lactobacillus (by 17.5 times) and Bifidobacteria (by 3.6 times), and there was a decrease in harmful Clostridium histolyticum (by 2 times), a bacteria best known for causing gangrene.
- It Can Reduce Stress
For stressed-out individuals, eating dark chocolate can reduce biomarkers of anxiety and stress in the body. Researchers at the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research designed a study that tested the effects of dark chocolate consumption on high-anxiety subjects. Participants received a medium-sized commercially available chocolate bar (Noir Intense, 74 percent dark) to eat every day. After two weeks, researchers found that levels of the stress markers cortisol and adrenaline had substantially decreased in their urine.
- Dark Chocolate is Antiangiogenic
Scientists at the University of California at Davis have shown that bioactives called procyanidins in cocoa have potent antiangiogenic effects through their ability to stop the signals activating blood vessel cells. Research my group has conducted on cocoa powder showed that not all chocolate is the same. When we studied the antiangiogenic effect of cocoa from two different powder suppliers, one of the samples had twice the potency of the other.
- It is a Stem Cell-Recruiting Food
With the help of over 750,000 stem cells, your body regenerates itself each and every day. Dark chocolate can mobilize your stem cells to carry out their job to the fullest. At the University of California, San Francisco, researchers found that participants who received a chocolate drink made with cocoa twice a day for thirty days had twice as many stem cells in their circulation as their control group.
- Consumption of Dark Chocolate May Lower Diabetes Risk
As a sweet, chocolate is a confection containing saturated fat and processed sugar, two ingredients that are not healthy. But dark chocolate with high amounts of cocoa solids provides antioxidants, which mobilize stem cells, aid in blood sugar control, and reduce inflammation—all contributing to a reduced risk of diabetes.
- Dark Chocolate Provides DNA Protection
DNA is your personal genetic blueprint that guides every aspect of your health. Yet, DNA is quite fragile and is the target of ferocious attacks throughout your life. Antioxidant compounds found in dark chocolate—like flavanols and other polyphenols—have been discovered to support DNA repair and strengthen your body’s regenerating abilities.
The health benefits of dark chocolate are both impressive and exciting. But before you make a mad dash to the candy aisle, remember that you must choose wisely—not all commercially available chocolate is nutrient-dense. Vosges Chocolate is a high-quality brand to opt for—and a personal favorite of mine. Aim for at least 70 percent cacao and high levels of flavonoids. Check out my book Eat to Beat Disease to learn more about the impressive health benefits of dark chocolate and additional ways to use food to amplify your body’s ability to heal itself.