There is no denying that people love chocolate. Americans consume 2.8 Billion pounds of chocolate per year!1 The problem with this obsession is that typically chocolate is loaded in sugar, calories, and fat; making it bad for you when consumed in large amounts. Chocolate’s main ingredient is Cocoa, which comes from the Cacao bean, and is actually an excellent source of certain nutrients for the body. The problem is that chocolate is consumed in less natural forms like milk chocolate, which has a lot of components added to it to make it sweeter and therefore better tasting to most people. By adding these things to it, the amount of sugar, calories, and fat eaten in one sitting only goes up. Dark chocolate, which is defined as any chocolate that contains at least 35% cocoa but is typically found around 65-80%, has been found to offer a number of health benefits due to being closer to a cacao bean’s natural form.
First and foremost, the cacao bean is one of the best sources of antioxidants on the planet. Cacao beans contain a number of flavonoids including catechins that are powerful antioxidants. Antioxidants serve a major role in keeping our bodies healthy. Their primary job is to neutralize free radicals found in our cells. Free radicals are highly reactive particles that cause damage by destabilizing parts of our cells resulting in damage. Sometimes the free radicals come in contact with our DNA and create mutations. These mutations can be extremely dangerous, and if left unchecked, they can cause cancers. By keeping our body high in antioxidants, we are able to reduce the chance of the mutations ever happening, and we can take on a role in preventing cancer for ourselves.
Antioxidants not only serve to fight cancer but also have powerful anti-inflammatory properties as well. Inflammation plays a major role in the development of chronic illnesses. When inflammation is present in our bodies, it creates a lot of stress.3 Continued exposure weakens our bodies’ ability to carry out their necessary functions and leads to some of the most prominent illnesses plaguing America today including Diabetes and Heart Disease.
Inflammation in our body not only causes disease but has also been found to cause digestive issues. The area of our digestive system that is most affected by chronic inflammation is the microbiota found in our large intestine and colon. When the microbiome is upset, it can lead to chronic digestive issues like irritable bowel syndrome. Inflammation of the microbiome has also been linked to mental illnesses including anxiety and depressions. Essentially reducing the amount of inflammation in your body is crucial to optimally carry out life functions, as it affects your body as a whole when consistently present.4
On top of being one of the best sources of antioxidants on the planet, dark chocolate also offers a number of other nutrients. Specifically, dark chocolate is an excellent source of iron, magnesium, copper, and manganese. Iron is crucial for oxygen being delivered to our tissues, 98% of our oxygen is delivered through our red blood cells. Iron present in red blood cells is what oxygen binds to in order to travel through our circulatory system. Magnesium serves as an important cofactor in a number of reactions in our body by supporting a healthy immune system, keeping the heartbeat steady, and helping bones remain strong. Copper is important in the formation of red blood cells and helps to maintain healthy blood vessels, nerves, immune system, and bones. Finally, manganese serves a role in the processing of macronutrients and bone formation. Something as simple as chocolate provides the body with many vital nutrients.
Dark chocolate’s number one benefit is the level of antioxidants it provides to our body to aid in preventative health, but it also contains essential micronutrients that serve to regulate the body. It is important to note that the higher the concentration of cocoa present in the chocolate is important. The less concentrated versions will contain more fats, calories, and sugars, and therefore are not as beneficial. Also, even though dark chocolate provides a great source of these nutrients, it still contains high amounts of these components and should be consumed in moderation as a small, sweet snack. So, enjoy your dark chocolate, but not too much!
To help you in your journey to a healthier future, we’ve been working with Dana Farber/MGH doctors to put out a free online risk assessment to help you determine what risk factors you have for several chronic diseases, like diabetes and lung cancer. Each quiz takes about 5 minutes to complete, after which you’ll be sent to your personalized report page that details your risk for the chronic diseases you’ve selected. The report page will show you what changes you need to implement in your life to lower your risk for disease. But we’re also aware of how difficult it can be to incorporate healthy choices into your life. With the upcoming changes to our platform, we will engage you regularly (via text/email) to make sure you’re staying on track to reduce your risk for disease and improve your overall wellbeing.
Choose a quiz, find out your risk
Answer each question honestly and to the best of your knowledge. All information will be stored confidentially and no personally identifiable information is asked during the quiz. Each quiz takes about 5 minutes.
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- “Random Candy Facts.” The Chocolate Store , thechocolatestore.com/candy-facts.
- “What Percentage of Dark Chocolate Is Healthy?” ProFlowers Blog, 26 Aug. 2016, www.proflowers.com/blog/what-percentage-of-dark-chocolate-is-healthy.
- Arulselvan, Palanisamy, et al. “Role of Antioxidants and Natural Products in Inflammation.” Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, vol. 2016, 10 Oct. 2016, pp. 1–15., doi:10.1155/2016/5276130.
- Hakanssan, Asa, and Goran Molin. “Gut Microbiota and Inflammation.” Nutrients, 3 June 2011. NCBI, PubMed, doi:10.3390/nu3060637.
- Gunnars, Kris. “7 Proven Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 25 June 2018, www.healthline.com/nutrition/7-health-benefits-dark-chocolate.