You may have thought of chocolate as a guilty pleasure, but the ancient Maya considered it the food of gods. Chocolate really is a health food. That is, as long as you buy the dark kind. In fact, the darker the chocolate the healthier it is.
Read below why you should choose dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate.
Chocolate for Blood Pressure: Darker Is Better
Studies have shown that those who ate dark chocolate had a significant drop in blood pressure (by an average of 5 points for systolic and an average of 2 points for diastolic blood pressure). Those who ate white chocolate did not.
Subject results showed that those who ate dark chocolate alone had the most total antioxidants in their blood. And they had higher levels of epicatechin, a particularly healthy compound found in chocolate. The milk chocolate eaters had the lowest epicatechin levels of all.
So what is it about dark chocolate? The answer is plant phenols — cocoa phenols, to be exact. These compounds are known to lower blood pressure.
Chocolates made in Europe are generally richer in cocoa phenols than those made in the U.S. So if you’re going to try this at home, remember: Darker is better.
Just remember to balance the calories. A 100-gram serving of Hershey’s Special Dark Chocolate Bar has 531 calories, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If you ate that much raw apple you’d only take in 52 calories. But then, you’d miss out on the delicious blood pressure benefit.
Dark chocolate is better for weight loss.
Even though the amount of calories in milk chocolate and dark chocolate are pretty similar (and in fact milk chocolate sometimes contains fewer calories), dark chocolate contains significantly less carbohydrates. Milk chocolate usually has about 50 grams of carbs per 100 g, while the amount of carbs in dark chocolate ranges from 8 to 35 carbs, depending on how dark it is. A chocolate with 70% cocoa has ~30 grams; a 85% chocolate has ~20 grams.
A high carbohydrate load will increase insulin secretion, which is a signal for the body to store energy as fat. The reason why low-carb diets are so effective for weight loss is their effect on insulin: even if you eat lots of fat, if there are no carbs present to drive insulin up, the energy from dietary fat won’t be stored into fat cells.
Dark chocolate has more cocoa polyphenols.
The health benefits of chocolate are almost entirely due to the polyphenols found in cocoa. As a rule of thumb, whenever you read something good about chocolate, what they’re really talking about is cocoa. Therefore, as the cocoa content of chocolate increases, so do its positive effects on health. A standard milk chocolate will contain about 30% cocoa, while premium dark chocolates usually have more than 70%.
Another thing that reduces the polyphenol content of chocolate (by 60-90%) is alkalization, also known as Dutch processing or simply Dutching. Alkalization was invented in the 19th century to get rid of some of the bitterness of cocoa powder and to make it more palatable. Non-alkalized cocoa powder is a more light brown in color and tastes less sweet than alkalized cocoa powder.
Dark chocolate is more filling.
Anyone who has tried both milk chocolate and dark chocolate must have noticed that it takes much less to satisfy chocolate cravings with the latter than the former. With 99% dark chocolate, a few pieces is enough.
This, as mentioned before, is not related to energy content, because milk chocolate and dark chocolate have virtually the same amount of calories. Rather, the reason why a smaller quantity of dark chocolate is enough is probably a combination of less sugar and more nutrients. Humans generally have a preference for sweet foods, which is why we love candy when we’re kids. But part of the reason why we can’t stop eating candy until we feel sick is that there are no nutrients in candy, only calories. This lack of nutrients causes our body to send the satiety signal way too late.
Since dark chocolate is higher in cocoa powder, it’s also higher in many nutrients, such as iron, magnesium, phosphorus, copper and manganese. Combined with the lower amount of sugar and high amount of fat, it’s no surprise you get your daily chocolate fix quicker with dark chocolate than milk chocolate.
Keep in mind, however, that excess consumption of dark chocolate has its downsides too. Cocoa powder is high in iron and oxalates, which are harmful in high quantities.