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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 18, 2020

7 Simple Rules to Live by to Get in Shape in Two Weeks

7 Simple Rules to Live by to Get in Shape in Two Weeks

Learning how to get in shape and set goals is important if you’re looking to live a healthier lifestyle and get closer to your goal weight. While this does require changes to your daily routine, you’ll find that you are able to look and feel better in only two weeks.

Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to get in shape. Although anyone can cover the basics (eat right and exercise), there are some things that I could only learn through trial and error. Let’s cover some of the most important points for how to get in shape in two weeks.

1. Exercise Daily

It is far easier to make exercise a habit if it is a daily one. If you aren’t exercising at all, I recommend starting by exercising a half hour every day. When you only exercise a couple times per week, it is much easier to turn one day off into three days off, a week off, or a month off.

If you are already used to exercising, switching to three or four times a week to fit your schedule may be preferable, but it is a lot harder to maintain a workout program you don’t do every day.

Be careful to not repeat the same exercise routine each day. If you do an intense ab workout one day, try switching it up to general cardio the next. You can also squeeze in a day of light walking to break up the intensity.

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If you’re a morning person, check out these morning exercises that will start your day off right.

2. Duration Doesn’t Substitute for Intensity

Once you get into the habit of regular exercise, where do you go if you still aren’t reaching your goals? Most people will solve the problem by exercising for longer periods of time, turning forty-minute workouts into two hour stretches. Not only does this drain your time, but it doesn’t work particularly well.

One study shows that “exercising for a whole hour instead of a half does not provide any additional loss in either body weight or fat”[1].

This is great news for both your schedule and your levels of motivation. You’ll likely find it much easier to exercise for 30 minutes a day instead of an hour. In those 30 minutes, do your best to up the intensity to your appropriate edge to get the most out of the time.

3. Acknowledge Your Limits

Many people get frustrated when they plateau in their weight loss or muscle gaining goals as they’re learning how to get in shape. Everyone has an equilibrium and genetic set point where their body wants to remain. This doesn’t mean that you can’t achieve your fitness goals, but don’t be too hard on yourself if you are struggling to lose weight or put on muscle.

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Acknowledging a set point doesn’t mean giving up, but it does mean realizing the obstacles you face.

Expect to hit a plateau in your own fitness results[2]. When you expect a plateau, you can manage around it so you can continue your progress at a more realistic rate. When expectations meet reality, you can avoid dietary crashes.

4. Eat Healthy, Not Just Food That Looks Healthy

Know what you eat. Don’t fuss over minutia like whether you’re getting enough Omega 3’s or tryptophan, but be aware of the big things. Look at the foods you eat regularly and figure out whether they are healthy or not. Don’t get fooled by the deceptively healthy snacks just pretending to be good for you.

The basic nutritional advice includes:

  • Eat unprocessed foods
  • Eat more veggies
  • Use meat as a side dish, not a main course
  • Eat whole grains, not refined grains[3]

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Eat whole grains when you want to learn how to get in shape.

    5. Watch Out for Travel

    Don’t let a four-day holiday interfere with your attempts when you’re learning how to get in shape. I don’t mean that you need to follow your diet and exercise plan without any excursion, but when you are in the first few weeks, still forming habits, be careful that a week long break doesn’t terminate your progress.

    This is also true of schedule changes that leave you suddenly busy or make it difficult to exercise. Have a backup plan so you can be consistent, at least for the first month when you are forming habits.

    If travel is on your schedule and can’t be avoided, make an exercise plan before you go[4], and make sure to pack exercise clothes and an exercise mat as motivation to keep you on track.

    6. Start Slow

    Ever start an exercise plan by running ten miles and then puking your guts out? Maybe you aren’t that extreme, but burnout is common early on when learning how to get in shape. You have a lifetime to be healthy, so don’t try to go from couch potato to athletic superstar in a week.

    If you are starting a running regime, for example, run less than you can to start. Starting strength training? Work with less weight than you could theoretically lift. Increasing intensity and pushing yourself can come later when your body becomes comfortable with regular exercise.

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    7. Be Careful When Choosing a Workout Partner

    Should you have a workout partner? That depends. Workout partners can help you stay motivated and make exercising more fun. But they can also stop you from reaching your goals.

    My suggestion would be to have a workout partner, but when you start to plateau (either in physical ability, weight loss/gain, or overall health) and you haven’t reached your goals, consider mixing things up a bit.

    If you plateau, you may need to make changes to continue improving. In this case it’s important to talk to your workout partner about the changes you want to make, and if they don’t seem motivated to continue, offer a thirty day break where you both try different activities.

    I notice that guys working out together tend to match strength after a brief adjustment phase. Even if both are trying to improve, something seems to stall improvement once they reach a certain point. I found that I was able to lift as much as 30-50% more after taking a short break from my regular workout partner.

    Final Thoughts

    Learning how to get in shape in as little as two weeks sounds daunting, but if you’re motivated and have the time and energy to devote to it, it’s certainly possible.

    Find an exercise routine that works for you, eat healthy, drink lots of water, and watch as the transformation begins.

    More Tips on Getting in Shape

    Featured photo credit: Alexander Redl via unsplash.com

    Reference

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