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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 November 20, 2020

Kickstart Your Morning Workout With These 10 Simple Habits

Kickstart Your Morning Workout With These 10 Simple Habits

Benjamin Franklin said it like this: “Early to bed, early to rise, will make a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” He knew from his own experiences and watching others that the ones who got up early were healthier and more successful. That’s why a morning workout can be so important.

One 2017 study found that:[1]

“after controlling for such factors as age, sex, smoking habits, and others…night owls, were found to have a 10 percent greater risk of dying from any cause compared to morning types.”

This is a great reason to tap into some morning motivation and get your morning workout done.

Circadian Rhythm for morning workout

    As you can see in the above graph, your blood pressure begins to rise between 6 and 7 in the morning[2]. That means this is a great time to get your body moving and your heart pumping, even if it’s just for 20 minutes of exercise in the morning. 

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    Here are some tips on how to find the motivation for a morning workout.

    1. Remember Your Why

    It starts with remembering why you want to get up for a morning workout. If you don’t set a goal and establish your reasons for accomplishing a health and fitness goal, then you definitely won’t get up early.

    Getting up early isn’t easy. If it were, everyone would do it, right? Your goal for your health and fitness must be so strong, and the WHY behind it must be so powerful, that nothing will stop you from accomplishing that goal.

    2. Go to Bed Early

    If you want to get up early for a morning workout, it’s going to be important to get to bed earlier. Falling asleep at midnight and trying to get up at six just won’t work in your favor.

    This will likely be very difficult for a few days while you adjust your sleeping habits. However, as you get into an exercise routine in the morning, this will naturally make it easier to fall asleep earlier and faster at night.

    3. Make a Commitment

    I sometimes tell my Facebook community of my plans to work out, and we all keep each other motivated by posting our runs, our workouts, etc. This is a way to develop accountability. By publicly announcing your intentions, you increase your chances of actually carrying out your plans.

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    Another way to do this is to find an accountability partner who has similar goals for morning workouts. You can check in with each other to make sure you’re sticking to your plans. If that doesn’t work, hire a personal trainer for a few weeks to get you started.  

    You can learn how to find a good accountability partner here.

    4. Find a Friend

    If you can find a friend that is motivated like you are, and you can hold each other accountable daily to working out, then you will accomplish your fitness goals. Many people prefer working out with friends to working out alone. Whether it’s a chat while hitting the treadmill at the gym, or having someone to spot you while weightlifting, working out with friends is sometimes just more enjoyable.

    Texting each other the night before with a simple statement is best. Don’t ask: “Are we still working out in the morning?” With this kind of question, if they were thinking about not working out, you just gave them an opt out.

    Make a statement instead: “Can’t wait to see you in the morning!” This implies that they will be there, and they will feel more obligated to show up.

    5. Treat Yourself

    We all have to treat ourselves every now and then. After a morning workout, plan to treat yourself with a colorful, healthy breakfast or a delicious morning smoothie. This will help you look forward to something and push through to the end of your workout.

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    You can learn more on rewards and punishments here.

    6. Change your Mindset

    Many people throw away the idea of a morning workout by simply saying, “I’m not a morning person.”  Instead of using this excuse, decide to try to become a morning person by shifting your mindset.

    When you look into the benefits of waking up early and getting some exercise in before your day starts, you’ll feel more positive about your life overall.

    7. Plan Your Day

    You know you’re going to be busy. Try time blocking to plan all the things you need to do on a given day, and make sure you add in your morning workout[3]. If you have a plan laid out, you’ll be more likely to follow it and get done everything on your list done.

    Time blocking

      8. Reflect on How You’ll Feel After

      Starting a morning workout is hard, but visualizing how you’ll feel after can help you find motivation. Think about the extra energy you’ll have and how proud you’ll feel knowing that you were already so productive. No matter what you do the rest of the day, at least you squeezed in your exercise!

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      For me, I live in an area where there are a lot of runners. When I am heading home in the evening or sitting out on the patio at one of my favorite restaurants, and I see the runners go by, it makes me feel so accomplished that I got mine in that morning and I can enjoy the evening.

      9. Lay out Your Workout Clothes

      Setting out your workout clothes the night before makes it impossible for you to start to run late because you couldn’t find something to wear. Tap into the determination you have before bed in order to convince your less-than-motivated morning self that you need to get up and get your morning workout in. When you wake up and see your outfit laid out next to you, it’ll push you to get up and get moving.

      10.  Set Multiple Alarms

      Many people miss their morning workout simply because they hit the snooze button so many times. In order to make this more difficult for yourself, set a series of alarms. That way, if you keep hitting snooze, you’ll have three or four alarms going off every ten minutes, which will be annoying enough to get you out of bed.

      Also, put one alarm at least a few feet from your bed so that you’re forced to get up to turn it off.

      Final Thoughts

      About three years ago I went from being the person that says I will never be an early riser to a person that loves to get the day started as soon as possible. Without the distractions that begin to come around 8 or 9 in the morning, you’ll find that you’re more productive and more likely to squeeze in that morning workout.

      Take some of the actions above and find the best morning workout routine to start your day and feel good.

      More Tips on Morning Exercises

      Featured photo credit: Tomasz Woźniak via unsplash.com

      Reference

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