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15 Surprising and Science-Backed Health Effects of Dark Chocolate

15 Surprising and Science-Backed Health Effects of Dark Chocolate

You have probably heard others talk about the benefits of eating foods packed with nutrients and antioxidants as a way to promote overall health. I would be willing to bet that chocolate, and more specifically dark chocolate, has come up in these conversations. While it seems almost too good to be true, the health benefits to eating a moderate amount of dark chocolate are backed by science. So rest assured, this is one instance where you can have your cake (or in this case, dark chocolate) and eat it too.

1. For centuries, dark chocolate has been long been associated with health benefits

Incas referred to a beverage made from cocoa as “the drink of the gods”, which eventually gave rise to its scientific name Theobroma cacoa, derived from the Greek words theo (god) and broma (drink). Aztec Emperor Montezuma stated that cocoa “builds up resistance and fights fatigue” and can “permit a man to walk for a whole day without food”.

2. Dark chocolate is rich in a class of phytonutrients called flavonoids

Flavonoids are one of the most common and largest groups of phytonutrients found in the diet. These phytonutrients are chemicals found in plants that promote health To date more than 4,000 varieties have been identified. Dark chocolate and cocoa contain specific flavonoids called flavan-3-ols (or flavanols).

3. Dark chocolate is chock(olate) full of other nutrients

A small bar of 70-85% dark chocolate, let’s say 50 grams/1.75 ounces, contains

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  • nearly 6 grams of fiber for digestive health
  • a third of your recommended daily allowance (RDA) for iron to promote cardiovascular fitness
  • over a quarter of your RDA for magnesium for skeletal health
  • nearly 50% of your RDA for copper and manganese, important for antioxidant functions

It is also important to note, that a serving of dark chocolate contains 300 calories, so it is best to consume dark chocolate in moderation. And don’t worry! You can still get these healthy effects from smaller servings; just try to make sure you are eating dark chocolate that 70-90% cocoa.

4. Flavan-3-ols/flavonols in dark chocolate lower blood pressure

Research has shown that after consumption of dark chocolate, antioxidant capacity in blood increased, which led to the opening of blood vessels and decreased blood pressure.

5. Dark chocolate decreases “bad” cholesterol and increases “good” cholesterol levels

You may have heard LDL, HDL, or VLDL. But what does this alphabet soup mean to your cholesterol and overall health? Briefly, cholesterol is made up low-density lipoprotein (LDL), high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL). LDL is considered the “bad” cholesterol that can build up on the walls of arteries, while “HDL” is called the good cholesterol, which can block LDL from building up on arteries. A variety of studies have shown that both dark chocolate and cocoa powder reduced LDL and oxidized LDL levels and increased HDL levels.

6. Dark chocolate reduces platelet aggregation

Platelets are components found in blood cells that help to form clots. While clots are critical in stopping excessive bleeding, hyperactive platelets can contribute to coronary heart disease. A study investigating the effects of white, milk, or dark chocolate showed that dark chocolate inhibited platelet accumulation, while white and milk chocolate had no effect on platelet clustering.

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7. Risk for cardiovascular disease is slashed by dark chocolate

Points #4-6 may be all well and good, but does dark chocolate broadly impact hearth health? Turns out, it does. A study researching the long-term diet habits in nearly 500 elderly men revealed that cocoa intake was inversely correlated with cardiovascular disease and mortality rates that were assessed 15 years after the study began. Another epidemiological study in the US general population demonstrated that consumption of chocolate was inversely related to coronary heart disease and that eating chocolate 5 times per week lowered the coronary heart disease risk by 57%. So go ahead and enjoy a daily piece of dark chocolate.

8. Moderate dark chocolate consumption lowers the risk for stroke

What about stroke? An analysis of five different studies demonstrated a nearly 20% stroke risk reduction when comparing those defined as high consumers (~ 62.9 grams/week or a tenth of a pound for our non-metric friends out there) to those defined as low consumers of dark chocolate (~ 0 grams/week).

9. Insulin blood sugar spikes are reduced by dark chocolate

Unfortunately, diabetes is a growing concern in the United States, so wouldn’t it be great if dark chocolate could mitigate rates of diabetes? An analysis over 40 clinical trials, including nearly 1300 participants, found that nutritional interventions with cocoa or chocolate significantly reduced fasting insulin concentrations and insulin resistance, endpoints which are used to assess risk for the development of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Again, moderation is key here and the distinction between cocoa/dark chocolate and milk/white chocolate is critical since milk/white chocolate have lower levels of healthful components.

10. Flavanols stimulate blood flow to the brain

A 450 milligram dose (about 1/6 of a teaspoon) of cocoa flavanols increased cerebral blood flow to gray matter in the brain. Additionally, a five day regimen of 150 milligrams of cocoa flavanols increased blood oxygenation levels. But does blood flow translate into smarts? I’m so glad you asked, see the next point.

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11. Increasing intake of cocoa can improve cognitive function

A study in 90 elderly participants investigated the effects of a high (~990 milligrams), intermediate (~520 milligrams), or low (~45 milligrams) cocoa flavanol doses. Researchers found that participants on the high flavanol track were able to complete cognitive tests much faster and scored better on verbal fluency test scores in comparison to those assigned to low flavanol supplementation. So you are telling me that dark chocolate could make me smarter? Sweet.

12. Dark chocolate reduces stress

This list just gets better and better. Personally, I feel like a weight has been lifted off my chest and this next point only helps this feeling. Preliminary studies demonstrate that dark chocolate consumption reduced excretion of cortisol and catecholamines, hormones involved in the body’s stress response. Additionally, other researchers have shown that consumption of dark chocolate buffered stress responses and reduced levels of perceived stress as assessed through a stress questionnaire. Now it makes even more sense to keep a bar of dark chocolate at work.

13. Dark chocolate boosts energy

I am always looking for an alternative pick me up to my traditional afternoon cup of coffee. Dark chocolate contains a small amount of caffeine to help give you a boost during the mid-afternoon slump.

14. Flavanols from dark chocolate can protect the skin

Just in time for summer! Consumption of flavanol rich chocolate protects against UV rays by increasing the minimum amount of UV rays required to cause skin redness. Moreover, flavanols from cocoa improve blood flow to the skin and increases skin hydration and thickness.

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15. Dark chocolate can improve teeth health

Sparkle up that smile. Dark chocolate is rich in the antioxidant theobromine, which has been shown to protect the enamel surfaces of teeth. Additionally, this potent antioxidant is better than fluoride at remineralizing and hardening tooth enamel. Knowing these facts only makes me smile more.

As you can see, the health effects of dark chocolate are supported by science and exhibit how dark chocolate and cocoa broadly promote health. Even though I am a dark chocolate lover already, reading over this list has only further convinced me to pick up another bar the next time I am grocery shopping to enjoy this treat (in moderation)!

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Last Updated on September 20, 2018

How to Stay Calm and Cool When You Are Extremely Stressful

How to Stay Calm and Cool When You Are Extremely Stressful

Being in a hurry all the time drains your energy. Your work and routine life make you feel overwhelmed. Getting caught up in things beyond your control stresses you out…

If you’d like to stay calm and cool in stressful situations, put the following 8 steps into practice:

1. Breathe

The next time you’re faced with a stressful situation that makes you want to hurry, stop what you’re doing for one minute and perform the following steps:

  • Take five deep breaths in and out (your belly should come forward with each inhale).
  • Imagine all that stress leaving your body with each exhale.
  • Smile. Fake it if you have to. It’s pretty hard to stay grumpy with a goofy grin on your face.

Feel free to repeat the above steps every few hours at work or home if you need to.

2. Loosen up

After your breathing session, perform a quick body scan to identify any areas that are tight or tense. Clenched jaw? Rounded shoulders? Anything else that isn’t at ease?

Gently touch or massage any of your body parts that are under tension to encourage total relaxation. It might help to imagine you’re in a place that calms you: a beach, hot tub, or nature trail, for example.

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3. Chew slowly

Slow down at the dinner table if you want to learn to be patient and lose weight. Shoveling your food down as fast as you can is a surefire way to eat more than you need to (and find yourself with a bellyache).

Be a mindful eater who pays attention to the taste, texture, and aroma of every dish. Chew slowly while you try to guess all of the ingredients that were used to prepare your dish.

Chewing slowly will also reduce those dreadful late-night cravings that sneak up on you after work.

4. Let go

Cliche as it sounds, it’s very effective.

The thing that seems like the end of the world right now?

It’s not. Promise.

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Stressing and worrying about the situation you’re in won’t do any good because you’re already in it, so just let it go.

Letting go isn’t easy, so here’s a guide to help you:

21 Things To Do When You Find It Hard To Let Go

5. Enjoy the journey

Focusing on the end result can quickly become exhausting. Chasing a bold, audacious goal that’s going to require a lot of time and patience? Split it into several mini-goals so you’ll have several causes for celebration.

Stop focusing on the negative thoughts. Giving yourself consistent positive feedback will help you grow patience, stay encouraged, and find more joy in the process of achieving your goals.

6. Look at the big picture

The next time you find your stress level skyrocketing, take a deep breath, and ask yourself:

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Will this matter to me…

  • Next week?
  • Next month?
  • Next year?
  • In 10 years?

Hint: No, it won’t.

I bet most of the stuff that stresses you wouldn’t matter the next week, maybe not even the next day.

Stop agonizing over things you can’t control because you’re only hurting yourself.

7. Stop demanding perfection of yourself

You’re not perfect and that’s okay. Show me a person who claims to be perfect and I’ll show you a dirty liar.

Demanding perfection of yourself (or anybody else) will only stress you out because it just isn’t possible.

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8. Practice patience every day

Below are a few easy ways you can practice patience every day, increasing your ability to remain calm and cool in times of stress:

  • The next time you go to the grocery store, get in the longest line.
  • Instead of going through the drive-thru at your bank, go inside.
  • Take a long walk through a secluded park or trail.

Final thoughts

Staying calm in stressful situations is possible, all you need is some daily practice.

Taking deep breaths and eat mindfully are some simple ways to train your brain to be more patient. But changing the way you think of a situation and staying positive are most important in keeping cool whenever you feel overwhelmed and stressful.

Featured photo credit: Brooke Cagle via unsplash.com

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