Health & Wellness: Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate  = Heaven in a bite!

The story of chocolate begins with a tree, a small tree of the tropical understory. In 1735 Linnaeus designated this tree Theobroma cacao, a scientific name that handily links two ancient cultures a world apart.

Theobroma, the genus name, is from the Greek and translates to “food of the gods,” a designation that chocolate-lovers would agree is befitting. Although Linnaeus was reputedly fond of chocolate, he would have been familiar with early Spanish writings describing the Mayan and Aztec beliefs that cacao was a gift from the gods.

Cacao is the Mayan root word retained by the Spanish colonizers of Mesoamerica to describe the tree and its products.

Made from the seed of the cocoa tree, it is one of the best sources of antioxidants on the planet.  Cacao beans were both a valuable commodity and a major form of currency and tribute payment in the Aztec empire (AD 1376-1520), which encompassed most of Mesoamerica when the Spaniards arrived.

Chili Hot Chocolate

Serves 2

500ml whole milk                              chili hot chocolate
80g (70% cocoa Chocolate, finely chopped or grated)
40g Dutch Cacao powder
1 tbsp Honey
¼ tsp ground 
Cayenne Pepper
Pinch of salt

Cream to top (optional)

  1. Make a paste with the Cacao powder and a bit of the warmed milk.
  2. Warm about 250mls of milk in a pan over medium heat and stir in the Chocolate. Continue to stir until the chocolate has melted.
  3. Add the rest of the milk, Cacao mixture and Honey. Stir and continue to heat until the mixture is hot, but not boiling, and then add the Cayenne Pepper and salt.
  4. To serve, pour into warmed cups and top off with whipped cream. Indulge and enjoy.

This aromatic, rich dark goodness is not just delicious; it is also loaded with nutrients that can positively affect your health.

  1. Dark Chocolate is Very Nutritious

Make sure you buy quality dark chocolate with a high cocoa content – with at least 70% Cacao.

It contains a decent amount of soluble fiber and is loaded with minerals.

A 100 gram bar of dark chocolate with 70-85% cocoa contains:

  • 11 grams of fiber.
  • 67% of the RDA for Iron.
  • 58% of the RDA for Magnesium.
  • 89% of the RDA for Copper.
  • 98% of the RDA for Manganese.
  • It also has plenty of potassium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium.

Of course, 100 grams (3.5 ounces) is a fairly large amount and not something you should be consuming daily. All these nutrients also come with 600 calories and moderate amounts of sugar.

For this reason, dark chocolate is best consumed in moderation.

The fats are mostly saturated and monounsaturated, with small amounts of polyunsaturates.

It also contains stimulants like caffeine and theobromine, but is unlikely to keep you awake at night as the amount of caffeine is very small compared to coffee.

Bottom Line: Quality dark chocolate is rich in Fiber, Iron, Magnesium, Copper, Manganese and a few other minerals.

  1. Dark Chocolate is a Powerful Source of Antioxidants

Dark chocolate is loaded with organic compounds that are biologically active and function as antioxidants. These include polyphenols, flavanols, catechins, among others.

One study showed that cocoa and dark chocolate contained more antioxidant activity, polyphenols and flavanols than other fruits they tested, which included blueberries and Acai berries.

  1. Dark Chocolate May Improve Blood Flow and Lower Blood Pressure

The flavanols in dark chocolate can stimulate the endothelium, the lining of arteries, to produce Nitric Oxide (NO), which is a gas.

One of the functions of NO is to send signals to the arteries to relax, which lowers resistance to blood flow and therefore reduces blood pressure.

There are many controlled trials showing that cocoa and dark chocolate can improve blood flow and lower blood pressure, but the effects are usually mild.

  1. Dark Chocolate Raises HDL and Protects LDL Against Oxidation

Consuming dark chocolate can improve several important risk factors for heart disease. Cocoa lowers oxidized LDL. It contains an abundance of powerful antioxidants that do make it into the bloodstream and protect lipoproteins against oxidative damage.

Dark chocolate can also reduce insulin resistance, which is another common risk factor for many diseases like heart disease and diabetes.

  1. Dark Chocolate May Lower The Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

The compounds in dark chocolate appear to be highly protective against the oxidation of LDL.

This means regular consumption of dark chocolate can in fact reduce the risk of heart disease.

  1. Dark Chocolate May Protect Your Skin Against The Sun

The bioactive compounds in dark chocolate may also be great for your skin. The flavonols can protect against sun-induced damage, improve blood flow to the skin and increase skin density and hydration.

  1. Dark Chocolate May Improve Brain Function

The good news isn’t over yet. Dark chocolate may also improve the function of the brain. Cocoa also contains stimulant substances like caffeine and theobromine, which may be a key reason cocoa can improve brain function in the short term.

It is important to choose organic, dark chocolate with 70% or higher cocoa content. Dark chocolates often contain some sugar, but the amounts are usually small and the darker the chocolate, the less sugar it will contain. Always eat with common sense – not consuming whole bars of chocolate daily.